‘Journalism is not a crime,’ RTHK producer says after convicted for public records search

Published (HKT): 2021.04.22 17:49

A Hong Kong journalist, who investigated police misconduct, was found guilty of breaching the Road Traffic Ordinance on Thursday. The conviction marks another blow to Hong Kong’s dwindling press freedom.

Bao Choy is convicted of two counts of making false statements for citing “traffic and transport-related matters” as the purpose, during the search for a car owner’s registration information in a public register. She was slapped with a fine of HK$6,000 (US$773).

“Today’s decision is a heart-breaking one,” Choy confessed after the trial. “The ruling is very harsh. The court interpreted the search on public databases in the narrowest sense, which would restrict the free flow of information and create a very difficult scenery for all journalists.”

“Even though I was found guilty, I firmly believe that registry search is not a crime, I firmly believe that journalism is not a crime,” the prizewinning reporter said as she teared up. She urges fellow news practitioners to firmly uphold journalistic integrity and safeguard the values of journalism despite all odds.

Chris Yeung, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, expressed “deep grief and anger” at the court’s decision on behalf of seven unions of media workers, calling it “a dark day of Hong Kong press.”

Magistrate Ivy Chui said allowing anyone in the public to search through public records without scrutinizing their purpose would undermine the privacy of car owners. Reporters could write directly to the head of the Transport Department to request approval, she added.

The veteran investigative reporter co-produced an episode of Hong Kong Connection for the public broadcaster RTHK, titled “7.21 Who Owns the Truth.” She traced the license plates of vehicles at Yuen Long, where a mob attack took place in 2019 and revealed that plainclothes officers were at the site.

Choy arrived at the West Kowloon District Court surrounded by supporters, including dozens from the RTHK Programme Staff Union. “Journalism is not a crime,” they chanted.

The trial came a day after the documentary won the Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, though RTHK has refused to accept any awards.

Kevin Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the Hong Kong University and one of the judges of the award, said the documentary revealed important clues, which the authorities were unwilling to address. The award is well-deserved, whether in terms of professionalism and public interests, he added.

Choy told Apple Daily she would most certainly attend the award ceremony if invited by the organizer. The award recognizes the work of the production team and RTHK’s decision does not affect her, she added. It is her honor to participate in the production of the episode, she stressed.

Choy’s arrest in November 2020 has fueled further fears for press freedom in Hong Kong under Beijing’s tightening grip. The city fell by seven places to 80 out of 180 territories in the latest world press freedom index, released by Reporters without Borders this week.

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