HKU gag order excludes material already in public domain

November 02, 2015 15:53
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is protesting against a gag order obtained by HKU on fresh revelations of its council's proceedings. Photo: HKEJ

A court order banning media from disseminating the content of leaked recordings of a meeting of the University of Hong Kong council Sept. 29 makes an important exception, a legal scholar says.

The exception is for material that has already been broadcast or published and so forms part of the public domain, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal law lecturer at HKU said on a radio program Monday morning.

These include the two recordings broadcast by Commercial Radio last week, Ming Pao Daily reported.

HKU did not mention the exception in the press release it issued on Friday announcing it had obtained the temporary injunction.

Commercial Radio had broadcast audio recordings of council members Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Leonie Ki Man-fung’s speeches during the meeting, at which the council rejected the unanimous recommendation of the university search committee for the appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro vice chancellor.

Other media outlets, including EJ Insight, subsequently published excerpts of the transcripts. 

The Hong Kong Journalists Association and seven other media associations are staging a protest against the court order at HKU Monday.

An online petition has been launched to gather support from journalists and teachers and students at local journalism schools.

Serenade Woo Lai-wan, Asia-Pacific project manager for the International Federation of Journalists, said she was shocked when she first learned about the gag order.

She said the media is only fulfilling its legitimate duties in disclosing matters pertaining to the public interest.

“The court order clearly threatens the core values of Hong Kong as regards press freedom,” Woo said.

She called on all journalists to keep tabs on the incident and defend their rights.

The Hong Kong News Executives’ Association issued a statement expressing concern that the injunction could harm the free flow of news.

The association called for the court, which is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on whether to make the injunction permanent, to balance the right to information of the public with the HKU council's confidentiality principle.

HKU said in a statement Sunday night that it respects the freedom of speech and of the press.

It said the measures it took were meant to protect those rights.

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