Journalists in Hong Kong publish press freedom petition


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - Page 6

Hong Kong journalists yesterday ran a petition in newspapers urging the territory’s Beijing-backed leader to withdraw a proposed law that they said would infringe on press freedom.

Local and foreign journalists have slammed a government plan to restrict access to information about company directors, after such details were used in a series of investigative reports to expose the wealth of Chinese officials.

The petition, which took the form of a full-page advertisement headlined “Secrecy breeds corruption,” was published in five local dailies and signed by nearly 1,800 reporters, journalism professors and students who urged the government to drop the plan.

“Freedom of the press and free flow of information is a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s success,” the petition read.

It called on the Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) to “withdraw this retrogressive regulation which grossly impinges on freedom and openness, and stop pushing for this heinous law to limit press freedom.”

Under the proposal, corporate directors could apply to have their residential address and full identity card or passport numbers blocked from public view — a bid the government said was meant to protect their privacy.

However, the plan has sparked an uproar among journalists as it comes amid concerns over Beijing’s meddling in local affairs and after a number of reports focusing on the wealth and assets of China’s ruling elite grabbed headlines.

Financial newswire Bloomberg has said it used Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers from corporate filings to chart business ties and a list of investments made by the extended family of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) in a report published in June last year.

The New York Times also said it used such information from Hong Kong over a story in October that showed outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) relatives had control of assets worth at least US$2.7 billion, a report Beijing branded as a smear.

The Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club said the bid is also bad for the territory’s business environment and transparency.