HKJA strongly opposes Government’s proposal to tighten company registry search and demands immediate withdrawal

The government has tightened a number of registry searches in the name of “protecting privacy”, severely undermine freedom of the press. According to the document submitted to the Legislative Council by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (hereinafter referred to as the “document”), without comprehensive consultation with all sectors of the community, the Companies Registry will restrict the public from accessing company directors’ information, some of which will be implemented immediately, and media access will be curtailed. Hong Kong Journalists Association is concerned that this will seriously jeopardise freedom of the press, and request the Government to stop implementing the relevant provisions.

According to the “document”, the Companies Registry intends to tighten public access to companies register by reintroducing proposals shelved in 2013. The company’s documents on the register only need to show the director’s correspondence address and “part of” the identification numbers instead of providing the ordinary residential address and complete identification numbers for public inspection. The relevant arrangements will be implemented immediately.

Starting from October 2022, the Company Registry can shield from public inspection the Protected Information contained in all documents filed for registration; with effect from December 2023, people may apply to the CR for protection from public inspection their Protected Information contained in documents already registered with the Company Registry.

The “document” also stipulates that the company registry documents containing the usual residential address and full identification number can only be obtained by “specified persons” through application, but “member of the press” is not included in the list of “specified persons”. The above restriction would severely affect the flow of information and undermine the freedom of the press. The space for journalists to engage in investigative journalism would be greatly narrowed. The role of revealing the truth will disappear, its “fourth power” no longer exists.

Back to 2013, different sectors of society also expressed opposition to the relevant provisions, believing that it would affect the rights of shareholders and labour rights, and may affect citizens who need to recover their own interests through searches and harm the public interest. In the end, the then government suspended the implementation of relevant provisions.

However, the Government has insisted on re-launching the provisions without consulting all sectors of the community. This action also deals another blow to the freedom of the press in Hong Kong.

Freedom of the press is a human right protected by the Basic Law. The HKJA urges the Hong Kong Government to immediately stop implementing the aforesaid provisions, and to study and follow up on the impact of relevant regulations. HKJA also calls on the government to expeditiously enact a Freedom of Information Law and an Archives Law to protect the public’s right to know.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

29 March 2021

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