A court order to restrict public inspection of the voters’ registry has sparked fears of curbs on press freedom after judges left it for the government to decide which journalists would be qualified for exemption from the new rule. The Court of Appeal on Wednesday ordered the government to consider an opt-out mechanism for voters to shield their personal data listed in the registry from public view out of safety concerns. It ruled that unrestricted public access to the election document infringed on residents’ privacy and voting rights. While the court declared that election candidates, political parties and members of the press were not bound by the restriction, it said it was up to the government to devise plans to enforce the ruling, including which people in the media industry could have access to the voter list. [The government] would not allow anyone claiming to be members of the press to have access to the registry. There will be a vetting process for the press Raymond Leung SC, government lawyer Earlier this month, the court handed a partial victory to the Junior Police Officers’ Association, which had sought to bar public inspection of the registry over concerns that officers’ residential addresses listed in it would be used for “doxxing” – maliciously publishing the information on the internet. The court also asked lawyers for the police group, election authorities and journalists’ associations to appear before it on Wednesday to advise on the orders to be made to reflect the judgment. In the hearing, government lawyer Raymond Leung Wai-man SC said authorities would establish a vetting mechanism and only allow news organisations registered under the Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS) to obtain access to the registry, through which journalists detect vote-rigging practices. The system has around 200 registered users, among which 30 are online-only media. “[The government] would not allow anyone claiming to be members of the press to have access to the registry. There will be a vetting process for the press,” Leung said. Court grants interim injunction to ban doxxing of Hong Kong police Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, for the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), urged the court to grant wider exemption to journalistic activities regardless of a person’s job status, saying the government’s categorisation was ill-defined and could possibly hinder the work of freelance reporters. But Johnson Lam Man-hon, vice-president of the appeal court, said it was outside the court’s jurisdiction to define the meaning of the press. Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, chief justice of the High Court, also said the wording in the order should not be overgeneralised. The order came when members of Hong Kong’s 31,000-strong police force complained of difficulties in verifying journalists’ identities during anti-government protests , often resulting in conflicts between officers and members of the press. Last year, city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor denied rumours that the government was considering issuing official press cards to help officers identify journalists. Detention of student reporter at protest venue sparks debate on press accreditation Calls for a media accreditation system were renewed by Beijing-friendly lawmakers, after a 12-year-old boy who called himself a student reporter was detained during a protest earlier this month. HKJA vice-chairwoman Shirley Yam Mei-ching said it welcomed media exemption from the restriction, but objected to the government’s decision to narrow down the definition of the press. It gives the administration the power to define who [are] journalists Shirley Yam, vice-chairperson, Hong Kong Journalists’ Association She said under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, journalists had always been immune from criminal liabilities for acquiring personal information for reporting purposes, but the government’s proposal would amount to a significant tightening of the exemption in the ordinance. “It gives the administration the power to define who [are] journalists. It also denies access to full-time journalists who are not working for GNMIS-registered media,” Yam said. A Registration and Electoral Office spokesman said it would publish the voter registry for the September Legislative Council elections in accordance with established procedures. Arrangements on the inspection of the registry would be announced in due course, he said. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.