Journalists in Hong Kong yesterday slammed a government bid to restrict access to information about company directors, after a series of investigative reports into the hidden wealth of Chinese officials.
Under the proposals put forward by the Hong Kong Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, corporate directors could apply to have their addresses and full identity or passport numbers blocked.
Such information can presently be accessed with a small fee and has been used by reporters to help show the true wealth of China’s ruling elite and their families.
“We believe that the ability of foreign correspondents and journalists to legally access information about individuals and their companies is vital to our role of reporting on issues of public interest,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong said in a letter addressed to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英).
The proposal comes amid concern over meddling by Beijing in the territory’s affairs and after a number of reports focusing on the wealth and assets of China’s ruling elite grabbed worldwide headlines.
In June last year, newswire Bloomberg used public records to compile a list of investments made by the family of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), just months before he became head of the Chinese Communist Party.
The New York Times in October last year said that financial records showed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) relatives had control of assets worth at least US$2.7 billion.
Bloomberg said it used Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers from corporate filings to chart business ties among Chinese officials. The New York Times also used such data from Hong Kong.
Access to the Web sites of both Bloomberg and the New York Times in China has since been blocked.
“It’s a damage to the free flow of information, which is the bloodline of investigative reporting,” Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting (麥燕婷) told reporters.
Without the ability to access the ID numbers of company directors it would be difficult to confirm a person’s identity, she added.
The bureau said the amendment was needed “to strike a balance between the right of the public to information and the protection of privacy.” The government aims for the law to come into effect next year.