New ‘Companies Registry’ regulation impedes press freedom in Hong Kong

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in raising serious concerns about the new regulation for online search functions introduced by the Companies Registry of Hong Kong. The IFJ calls for the regulation to be revoked.

According to Ming Pao the Companies Registry of Hong Kong changed the requirement for all companies if they want to make a company search from the online service. Under the new regulations, companies must select one of six options, outlining the reason for the user to search the information regarding the company. Without making the selection, users cannot continue with the search, however none of the six options relating to media reporting. Kan-Sun, a lawyer and pro-democracy legislator, questioned the changes and said that such changes could further limit news reporting.

Sham Yee-Lan, chairperson of HKJA, said: “It violates press freedom as it hinders the work of reporters”.

The Companies Registry administers and enforces most parts of the Companies Ordinance. The Ordinance provides a modernised legal framework for the incorporation and operation of companies in Hong Kong and reinforces Hong Kong’s position as an international financial and commercial center.

The company search function is widely used by reporters during investigative reporting. More recently, the search function was used to assist the research and investigation into the ‘Panama Papers’. In 2012, the Companies Registry of Hong Kong tried to amend laws in order to forbid the public from collecting data about the management of companies. The proposed amendments received widespread criticism and the government had to withdraw the draft amendments.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said “Access to information is one of the cornerstones of press freedom and democracy. It is vital to ensuring government accountability and transparency. This new regulation appears to be part of a wider pattern in Hong Kong to curb media freedom and access to information. Ultimately actions and regulations such as these, impede investigative journalism, making it harder for the media to tell the important stories and act as watchdogs.”

We urge Miss Ada Chung, Registrar of Companies, to withdraw the new regulations and consult all stake-holders before making any changes.     

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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