HKFP Editor-in-Chief Tom Grundy has partnered with a group of human rights lawyers to file a judicial review against the government in light of its policy of barring online media outlets from government press conferences and press releases.

In April, Grundy received an offer of assistance from Hong Kong’s Legal Aid Department. He is now seeking to link with interested parties and individuals to gather funds to begin proceedings.

Access denied

In January 2016, the government’s Information Services Department stated that access to its online Government News and Media Information System was only made available “to registered or licensed mass news media organisations which include registered newspapers, periodicals and news agencies, as well as licensed TV and radio stations”.

Letter from the Information Services Dept. in January 2016.

In a letter to Grundy, it said: “In the absence of a legally binding registration or licensing regime… we are not in a position to distinguish among a wide range of ‘online media’ organisations, nor is it possible for us to grant access to all those that claim to be ‘online media’ for on-the-spot reporting, given the practical arrangements required.”

Separately, on October 27th last year, Grundy was barred from attending a weekly press briefing held with chief executive Leung Chun-ying despite presenting his HKFP and Hong Kong Journalists Association credentials.

HKFP regularly covers matters involving the Hong Kong government. Its staff are all qualified, full-time Hong Kong Journalists Association members. HKFP Limited is a registered company with shared office space at Cyberport.

Bill of Rights violation

It is the view of HKFP’s legal partners that hindering digital news outlets from access to government press conferences and press releases is a breach of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.

Article 16(2) of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice”.

A document obtained by HKFP shows that foreign print publications and international broadcasters are among news outlets currently granted access to the online government information system, but digital media outlets are excluded.

‘Archaic’ policy

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Hong Kong’s electorate access their news through the internet, HKFP – as a digital outlet – has been obstructed in its ability to ask questions of public officials or obtain information on public affairs simply because it does not produce a paper edition.

A Senior Counsel with experience in judicial review matters, said that there are “reasonable prospects of success for a judicial review of the policy”.

Other media organisations, or interested parties and individuals, are invited to contact HKFP to assist in gathering funds to challenge the government’s outdated policy.

Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.