Hong Kong journalist group alleges new vehicle registry policy impedes press freedom News
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Hong Kong journalist group alleges new vehicle registry policy impedes press freedom

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) released a statement on Tuesday that the Transport Department’s refined application process for a Certificate of Particulars of Vehicle to journalists impedes freedom of press.

In the statement, the HKJA claimed the government failed to respect a June 2023 ruling by the Court of Final Appeal (CFA). The case involved a local journalist applying for the certificate to conduct investigative journalism for her television documentary on the 2019 Yuen Long attacks. In the online application, the journalist declared that the purpose of the application was “other traffic and transport-related matters” as journalism was not among the choices in the pulldown menu. The prosecution alleged that her action constituted “knowingly making a false statement in a material particular for the purpose of obtaining a certificate” under the Road Traffic Ordinance.

However, the CFA quashed her conviction by adopting a “constructional approach” to give effect to the constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The court held that “other traffic and transport-related matters” should include investigative journalism in good faith.

In January, the government implemented a new policy that requires journalists to submit a written application to the Commissioner of Transport if they wish to access the vehicle registry under “exceptional circumstances.” Following this, a local media agency reported its failed application attempts. The HKJA asserted that requiring journalists to apply under exceptional circumstances would be contrary to the CFA’s judgment. It further contended that the policy empowered the Commissioner excessively to define “public interest”, which potentially creates conflicts of interest and materially intervenes with investigative journalism. The statement also stated that the prolonged application process neglects the timeliness and confidentiality of news reporting.

In response, the Transport Department said the Commissioner owes a public duty to protect personal data and minimise the risk of abuse of personal data. It reiterated that the CFA recognised there is a risk of abuse in the original application process and the refined arrangement only served to ensure that personal data is obtained without being abused or misused. It stated that there exists a mechanism to avoid conflicts of interest when public servants are performing their public duties and guidance for the Commissioner to decide whether an application involves “significant” public interest.