Gordon Jones, the Registrar of Companies between 1993 and 2007, says the reasons for withholding information on company directors are weak to begin with, and the consequences of such action will be worse than expected for Hong Kong’s international reputation.
If enacted, the new provisions will undermine the principles of accountability and transparency that lie at the heart of Hong Kong’s company law, undermine our corporate governance standards and adversely affect Hong Kong’s image as a major international business and financial centre.
Read his op-ed in the South China Morning Post here
The following is the text of a letter sent by JEPF to Legislator Emily Lau for discussion by pan-democrats in LegCo
07 February 2013
Journalism Educators for Press Freedom (JEPF) is a group of teachers of journalism from Hong Kong’s tertiary education institutions. We are concerned about the state of press freedom in Hong Kong and the reporting conditions for Hong Kong journalists in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
JEPF is deeply concerned about provisions in the amended Companies Ordinance which will hide the residential addresses and ID card numbers of company directors from public access. This move strikes a blow to transparency and accountability in Hong Kong’s commercial and financial sectors and public life.
The government argues the move is necessary to safeguard privacy but the Privacy Commissioner has only ever received two complaints related to information obtained from company records, neither of which was upheld.
We are aware the government has been sending out signals that it may be willing to grant an exemption to the news media but we wish to state that we are opposed to this ‘concession’. Some of the reasons are:
- Such a move would require defining (presumably by the government) what constitutes journalism, journalistic activities and news organisations at a time when definitions and boundaries are being constantly redrawn in the face of changing technology and the internet.
- Journalists are not the only group of people affected by the changes. Everyone has the right to protect their interests by using the information from the Companies Registry. With the information obtained, they may take action such as appealing to the press for follow-up action. This helps society to monitor irregularities.
- Journalists are a part of society, they should serve society. They should not be pushed into a special category of people who depend on the government to grant them privileged access to what should be public information.
- The withholding of hitherto publicly available information damages freedom of information in Hong Kong. Even if journalists are granted an exemption, they would still be working in an environment with restricted freedom of information. This affects society as a whole and is bad for the practice of journalism.
We ask members of the Legislative Council not to accept an exemption but to instead call on the government to remove the relevant section on disclosure of this information.
Journalism Educators for Press Freedom
Names: Yuen Chan(陳婉雯), Eva Chan Sik-chee(陳惜姿), Vivian Tam Wai-wan(譚蕙芸), Avis Or Wai-sum(柯惠心), Emily Owen(翁愛明), Bruce Lui Ping-kuen(呂秉權), To Yiu-ming(杜耀明)
The new Companies Ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council in July last year. The Legislative Council is currently discussing provisions which include the withholding details of the residential addresses and Identity Card/Passport numbers of company directors from public access. We believe this amendment presents a severe setback to journalists in Hong Kong. Journalism Educators for Press Freedom (JEFP) is extremely concerned and worried about this development.
Company searches have always been an important tool for investigative journalism. From a single residential address, journalists can discover leads that help them to uncover facts and untangle webs of interconnections and show the bigger picture. This information allows journalists to grasp concrete evidence in exposing conflicts of interest among senior officials and elected representatives, and to reveal the shady practices of dishonest companies. To cut off this channel of discovery is to seriously stifle an important source of information for journalists.
The Financial Services and Treasury Bureau, together with the Companies Registry, is enacting this big change but only allowed one month for public consultation (November to December 2012). We find this woefully inadequate and are extremely disappointed that practitioners from the news industry were not a part of the consultation.
This issue is provoking strong responses from the news industry. While protecting the public’s rights to privacy, authorities should also preserve the public’s right to know to the highest degree. Therefore, JEFP requests that the government withdraw this particular amendment and allow the news media to continue to protect the public interest.
Journalism Educators for Press Freedom
January 8 2013