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LCQ6: Safeguarding press freedom

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Man-kwong and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (July 11):


     Recently, unauthorised building works (UBWs) have been discovered in the residence of the Chief Executive (CE), arousing wide public concern. It has been reported that reporters from the Ming Pao Daily News (Ming Pao), when carrying out related news coverage activities in the vicinity of that residence earlier, were found by the security guards and neighbours there, and the then CE-elect took the initiative to call the Chief Editor of the newspaper afterwards on June 19 to enquire about the incident. The media and some members of the public indicated that the act was not proper as CE-elect had important status and power and was also the subject of the investigation of the newspaper on UBWs, his call to the Chief Editor would easily be associated with exertion of pressure on the media and interference with Hong Kong's freedom of the press, calling into question his integrity. It has been reported that the glass frame, which was alleged to be UBWs, was removed immediately on June 20 after his call to Ming Pao. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) as the then CE-elect took the initiative to call the Chief Editor of Ming Pao to enquire about matters of UBWs involving his residence and he even removed the UBWs after learning about the situation of such UBWs, whether they have assessed if such acts were proper and lawful and whether they have assessed the impact of such acts on the freedom of the press and news collecting; if they have not, of the reasons for that;

(b) as the then CE-elect knew clearly that Ming Pao was investigating the UBWs in his residence but he still took the initiative to call the Chief Editor of Ming Pao to enquire about the investigation, whether they have assessed if the then CE-elect had attempted to make use of his power, position and status to acquire information on the UBWs and then make them disappear into thin air; whether they have assessed if such acts involved conflicts of interests and roles and not befitting his position as CE-elect; and

(c) given that the media and the public have queried the integrity of CE and alleged him of interfering with Hong Kong's freedom of the press after UBWs have been found in his house, whether they have assessed if those problems will affect his credibility in governing Hong Kong, if he is fit to continue to be CE, and if he should take the blame and resign so as to uphold the dignity of CE?



     With regard to the incident concerning the Chief Executive (CE) and a news agency, the Administration has learned from news reports that the news agency concerned has undertaken civil action in respect of this incident. It is not appropriate for the Administration to discuss the details of the incident publicly at this stage so as not to affect the legal proceedings concerned. I will only make some in-principle comments on behalf of the Administration.

     The Administration has all along been making effort to protect the right to press freedom enjoyed by Hong Kong residents as enshrined in the Basic Law. As said in his speech at the Inauguration Ceremony, the CE would do his utmost to safeguard human rights and make sure that press freedom and the independence of the media are respected.

     The Administration reiterates once again that press freedom and the right to expression are fundamental rights enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong. These fundamental rights are enshrined in the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other local legislation. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government is firmly committed to protecting the freedom of the press, and providing a suitable environment in which the media industry can flourish freely under minimum regulation.

     The media in Hong Kong has all along been proactively monitoring the Government. It reports and comments on local and international matters, as well as the policies and work of the Government extensively and freely. Under the premise of respecting press freedom, government officials and the media contact and liaise with each other from time to time over their work. This is a healthy and normal phenomenon, as it facilitates the media's news-gathering and reporting work, and helps increase the transparency of the Government's administration at the same time.

     The media in Hong Kong has always been operating independently. Press freedom is respected by the Government and the society. Press freedom is one of the core values of Hong Kong. The CE and the HKSAR Government, as always, will continue to safeguard press freedom.

Ends/Wednesday, July 11, 2012