When a journalist investigating a high-profile mob attack at the height of Hong Kong’s social unrest in 2019 is convicted as a result of her work, something is amiss. To the relief of Bao Choy Yuk-ling, an award-winning RTHK freelance producer, she received a HK$6,000 (US$773) fine for making false statements in the use of an online database, not the maximum six months’ imprisonment under the law. But the case has created a chilling effect and raised further fears for press freedoms. Choy merely did what reporters have long been doing. She used the car registration search tool of a government database to find the owner of a vehicle linked to the so-called July 21 attack at Yuen Long MTR station. But just as the television programme she co-produced won a news award, she was found guilty of making false statements. The court ruled that she had deceived authorities by accessing the system under “traffic and transport-related matters” when carrying out her reporting duties. The magistrate said Choy should have taken a different route, but for those familiar with the way the media and government operate, the online database is the right channel. What it lacks is simply the option of “news reporting”. This is not only a sorry outcome for the industry, but also for the public perception of the administration of justice. The prosecution was seen by many as being in retaliation for the criticism police and government have received over their handling of the attack. The ruling, and the reasoning behind it, also give the impression the court took too narrow a view, and this raises questions about the protection of the news media and the public’s right to know. The outcry underlines growing fears within the news industry. Increasingly, what used to be perfectly legitimate areas of reporting are becoming no-go zones. Hong Kong magistrate’s suggestion for database-searching journalists ‘unrealistic’ Journalists are not above the law, nor are we asking to be treated as such. But the pursuit of truth is our fundamental mission, at times even outside legal boundaries when there is an overriding public interest. Press freedom is protected by the Basic Law. The government should closely engage the industry and review relevant laws to ensure constitutional safeguards are not compromised.