Hong Kong media owners usually play the judge and jury when it comes to local affairs, but it is a different thing when they themselves have to face the court.
Magistrate Bina Chainrai today had some strong words for Apple Daily and Next Magazine owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, whom she once misidentified as the owner of East Magazine.
In a pre-trial hearing on three men who allegedly attacked Lai and two disciplinary officers during the Occupy Central campaign last year, Lai was supposed to come to the court to give his testimony.
However, the court was informed that Lai would be available in person only during certain periods in December and January.
That did not sit too well with the magistrate, who pointed out that the court had issued summons and that Lai had no excuse for being absent despite being the victim.
She said the court can adjust the hearing schedule based on the information provided by the witness and the plaintiff and the defendants’ barristers, but there would be a limit.
The next court hearing has been set for January 28-29, but they are not the preferred dates of Lai.
We believe Magistrate Chainrai made her own decision based on the court’s rules, without bothering whether the person involved is the owner of Next or East magazine.
On November 12 last year, Lai was pelted with bags containing rotten animal intestines as he was standing near an Occupy protest site at Admiralty.
Following the incident, three men — a chef, a restaurant owner, and a businessman — were charged with common assault.
It was in connection with that case that Lai was scheduled to appear before the court and give his testimony, which he failed to do on Tuesday.
The magistrate’s words and the new dates for the hearing can be seen as a rebuke for the media tycoon.
However, it was not all bad news for the media on Tuesday.
On the same day, a jury overturned a previous court ruling that required Ming Pao Daily to pay HK$500,000 for making defamatory comments about Hong Kong Football Association vice chairman Pui Kwan-kay.
Represented by Wong Yan-lung, former Secretary for Justice, Ming Pao won the appeal by arguing that it had taken fair and reasonable steps before publishing an editorial that it believed was in the public interest.
Upon hearing the judgment, Pui said he would consider lodging an appeal himself. He said he will go through the ruling and consult his lawyer before making a final decision.
Pui, always the football fan, said he can accept winning or losing but the important thing is to have a fair referee.
The case marked the first time in Hong Kong’s recent history that there was a jury trial in a defamation case. The British colonial rulers had earlier abolished jury trials in such cases.
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