A Hong Kong newsmaker is chosen each month by HKFP. The anonymous whistleblower of the HKU Council has been selected as HKFP Person of the Month for November 2015.
In a closed-door University of Hong Kong (HKU) Council meeting held on September 29, Council members rejected the appointment of pro-democracy law scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun for the post of pro-vice-chancellor for unknown reasons. This raised widespread concern about academic freedom at the University.
Within hours of the meeting, HKU Student Union president and student representative to the Council Billy Fung Jing-en released a statement revealing the reasoning behind the Council members’ decision. In doing so, he contravened confidentiality rules, however he considered the act a moral duty in light of the “injustice” that had occurred.
A month later, on October 28, an audio recording taken at the Council meeting in which Chan was rejected was leaked by an anonymous whistleblower on Commercial Radio, confirming Fung’s claims about the reasons provided by Council members for Chan’s rejection. This further intensified the controversy.
HKU Council chairperson Edward Leong Che-hung then immediately launched a police investigation and sought legal advice while critics considered it a “waste of police resources.” The leak was condemned by the Education Bureau and it was called “immoral” by Chief Executive and HKU Chancellor CY Leung.
After another audio leak aired on Commercial Radio, HKU proceeded to slap a court injunction prohibiting the publication of leaked recordings of the closed-door Council meeting. A consensus was reached wherein Commercial Radio agreed not to republish the two leaked recordings of the Council meeting. However a public domain clause protected members of the public who could still republish content that was already public.
The injunction garnered widespread criticism and concerns on press freedom. Media unions such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association protesting against the decision said it was the duty of journalists to publish confidential information for the sake of public interest. Meanwhile, Commercial Radio vowed to always protect the identity of its informant.
It doesn’t end there.
Three more tapes from the confidential Council meeting have been leaked to the public on a Taiwanese internet forum since. The latest one one was leaked as recent as Thursday, November 26 and appeared to have been recorded during an August meeting of the Council. The leaks reaffirm Fung’s earlier revelations, while the identity of the informant continues to remain a well-protected secret.
The audio tapes leaked by the anonymous whistleblower, the injunction widely hailed as unjust and the ongoing controversy surrounding key managerial posts have dealt a severe blow to the public’s perception of the HKU Council. Concerns about its apparent lack of accountability, credibility and transparency, as well as those about the independence of educational institutions in Hong Kong, remain.