Jimmy Lai

Jimmy Lai

Media firms need not reveal who gave them ex-lawyer’s private photos, Hong Kong judge rules

Rosaline Wong succeeds in halting publication of pictures by Next Media Interactive and Next Magazine Advertising but fails in bid to identify sources

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 9:10am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 9:17am

A High Court judge has refused to order that media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s companies reveal how they obtained two photographs of former barrister Rosaline Wong Wing-yue, after the court ruled that the need to protect press sources should prevail.

In the decision handed down on Tuesday, Deputy High Court Judge Kent Yee Kai-siu accepted that Wong, daughter of former High Court judge Michael Wong Kin-chow, had a legitimate right to stop the unauthorised publication of the photographs.

The pictures showed Rosaline Wong at a hospital with two other people.

Wong submitted that Next Media had published the photos merely for commercial benefit, and the usual public interest defence against disclosure orders should therefore not apply.

But the judge rejected her argument and said the case did concern the public interest.

Wong earlier asked the court to stop Next Media Interactive and Next Magazine Advertising from copying and reproducing the two photographs, which had been published on the media group’s news website.

She also asked for the names of those who had provided the photographs to the companies.

Wong claimed she had sent the original photographs to only “a handful of close friends”, and that she owned the copyright to them.

She said any publication of the photographs without her consent would be an infringement of her copyright, adding that she had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the photographs.

The lawsuit was also filed against unspecified individuals who “wrongfully” and “unlawfully” provided the photographs to the media firms without her consent.

The companies did not oppose the publication ban, but objected to the disclosure of their source on the basis that they had a right to confidentiality.

Wong argued that she needed to know who the source was so as to bring the “potential wrongdoer” to justice.

In his decision, Yee wrote that he had weighed the complainant’s right to privacy against the need to protect press sources.

“I conclude that I should refuse to exercise my discretion to order such disclosures,” the judge stated.

In arriving at that conclusion, the judge noted that he was inclined to agree that the publication of the infringing photographs had served little public interest.

But he asserted: “[It] is the public interest in the non-disclosure of press sources that this court has to protect.”

He also found no evidence that Wong had suffered any substantial financial loss owing to the publication of the photographs.