People who believe their privacy has been infringed by newspapers will be able to lodge complaints with a non-government watchdog from September. The Hong Kong Press Council was formally established yesterday with Professor Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, Lingnan University president, as chairman. Former High Court judge Arthur Garcia, the first Ombudsman, was named vice-chairman. Professor Chen, speaking after the council's first meeting, said the media industry had reached a mature stage by having a self-regulatory body, like those for the legal and accounting professions. 'It's a milestone in the history of the Hong Kong press,' he said. He believed the Law Reform Commission would now go ahead with its idea of a statutory press council, which was strongly opposed by the industry for fear of gagging press freedom. Professor Chen said the council would first handle complaints against privacy intrusion by dailies, which are members of the proprietor-led Hong Kong Newspaper Society, which initiated the self-regulation mechanism. The watchdog, which comprises lawyers, educators, social workers and newspaper executives, can censure papers or demand that they run public apologies to the victims. Complaints against non-member papers will not be handled until the council has sought statutory protection from libel lawsuits. The papers not covered are the Oriental Daily News, the Apple Daily, the Sun, the Hong Kong Economic Journal and Sing Pao. The Hong Kong Journalists' Association, which did not join the council, said about 70 per cent of newspaper readers would be left out if only complaints against Newspaper Society members would be handled. 'We still believe self-regulation by individual press is the best approach. If each of them can discipline themselves, why would we need a centralised mechanism?' said association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting. Media ethics commentator Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the Society for Truth and Light, said the non-participation of the mass dailies would affect the work of the council. But as a member of the council's executive committee, Mr Choi said he would adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Professor Chen rejected claims that the council, which was endorsed by 11 newspapers, including the South China Morning Post, the News Executives' Association and the Federation of Journalists, was unrepresentative. 'We believe we have got the majority of newspapers in Hong Kong. If you consider readership, it will be a different question. The non-member cases will also be handled in due course if we obtain qualified privilege [against defamation and libel charges],' he said. He denied that a lack of power to punish defiant newspapers with fines or suspension of publication would make the council toothless. 'We think the pressure of public opinion is very great indeed.' With more than 10 years of experience as chairman of the Consumer Council, Professor Chen believed he would deal with complaints fairly.