They are responding to the consultation paper published by the Access to Information Sub-committee of the Law Reform Commission which ends today, despite public appeal for an extension.
They criticised the commission’s “misguided” description of the existing non-statutory access to information system as “effective and cost-efficient”, noting that complaints against that system has been making record high for four consecutive years.
Journalists would spend hundreds of days in applying for information of public interest from public bodies and complaining to the Office of Ombudsman but to no prevail. There have been cases of public officials ignoring the Ombudsman’s order. Yet, the commission is proposing a legislation that largely mirrors the current system.
The media groups are suggesting the establishment of an Information Commission under professional leadership with independent enforcement powers and clear responsibilities in monitoring the Law’s implementation in various public bodies and reviewing refusal of disclosure. Its operation should be overseen by an independent and well represented body.
Other key recommendations include:
- Bodies to be covered by the law should include not only the 86 organizations defined in the Ombudsman Ordinance as proposed by the LRC but also Home Affair’s list of Bureau’s Advisory and Statutory Bodies as well as those covered by the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.
- NO to the proposal that public authority can refuse to process an application if the estimated number of man-hours reaches 15 hours. The access to Information is a constitutional right which must not be compromised for costs. The 15-hour limit is not only too restrictive and arbitrary but would also invite abuse from public bodies.
- NO to the proposal to charge a basic fee which is not required under the current access to information code; while agree in principle to a tiered-fee system.
- NO to the proposal of absolute exemption which unnecessarily restricts legitimate data request that can be defended by public interest reason.
- NO to the introduction of conclusive certificate system in Hong Kong to allow the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Secretary of Justice the power to override any review decision before a judicial review. The government should follow the proper procedure to seek court order to override any disclosure decision.
- YES to the proposal that the application for archival record should be free of charge.
- Target response time to data request must be specified in the law. Timely response to data request without unreasonable delay should be stated in the law as the government’s obligation.
The signatories of the submission are:
- Hong Kong Journalists Association
- Hong Kong Press Photographers Association
- Independent Commentators Association
- International Federation of Journalists
- Journalism Educators for Press Freedom
- RTHK Programme Staff Union
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club
- Hong Kong Free Press
- Local Press Hong Kong
- Stand News
5 March 2019