英文

Editorial : Explanation needed for arrest of journalist

【明報專訊】A PRODUCER of the RTHK programme Hong Kong Connection has been arrested presumably because of her investigative report produced with car license information obtained from a publicly accessible database. According to the Road Traffic Ordinance, it is necessary to declare the purpose when enquiring car license information. The government does not list "news reporting" as a declarable purpose. However, in professional journalism, public registry searches are an important tool for finding out the truth. In the past, many investigative reports on important matters of public interest were made possible by public database searches. A normal practice should be viewed as it is. Obtaining car license information from the public database is common investigative procedure employed by journalists. In the past, no journalist was said to have been arrested for "making a false statement about the purpose of obtaining information from the registry". The arrest poses an immediate, direct and consequential challenge to normal investigative journalism. The press is worried that such a precedent will greatly impede investigative journalism and undermine the public's right to know. The police must offer a clear explanation of what is "suspicious" about the producer's action that necessitated the shattering of a long-standing practice.

In July, a Hong Kong Connection special report on the 21 July incident at Yuen Long last year was broadcast. The report mentioned several cars that had been used to transport the men in white at Fung Yau Street North that day. With a search through the car license registry, journalists for the programme were able to track down the owners of the cars and contact them one by one with their registered addresses. The car plates were blurred when they appeared in the episode. Choy Yuk-ling, a producer who had worked on the special report, was arrested yesterday (November 3). It is understood that Choy allegedly violated the Road Traffic Ordinance by using improper information to do the search on car information (thus making a false statement). The police have not made a public disclosure of the specifics of the case, making it impossible to comment on whether anyone really acted inappropriately in the incident.

In Hong Kong, there are more than a hundred types of information in the registries for the public to enquire, ranging from the personal information of company directors to that of public office holders. As for car information, for just $45, citizens can input a car plate number and have access to information about the car and its owner, including his or her name, identity card number and registered address. Such information is made accessible mainly for the sale of cars, as it makes it easier for prospective buyers to acquire information about the car's current owner. But a search through the car information registry is also an important tool for journalists doing investigative reports. From illegal structures in the homes of high-ranking government officials to "vote-rigging" in elections, many important news stories have come to light thanks to searches through the registries. A car plate search is exactly one of the investigative methods commonly employed by journalists. If such a route is no longer available, reporters' quest for truth will be affected.

Now a journalist has been arrested by the police allegedly because of a search through the registries for investigative journalism, shattering the long-standing rules of the game that have been agreed tacitly for years. Inevitably all journalists are now worried that they could invite trouble simply by looking for clues for news reports with a search through the registries. A chilling effect has been created.

The details surrounding the arrest of the Hong Kong Connection producer remain unclear, but the incident has nevertheless had an immediate effect on the routine of journalists. The police have to explain clearly what is unusual or abnormal about the incident that made such an unusual and rare action necessary.

明報社評2020.11.04:記者查冊找真相 警方拘捕須解釋

港台《鏗鏘集》一名編導被捕,事件疑與「查冊」索取車牌資料做偵查報道有關。根據《道路交通條例》,車輛查冊需申報目的,雖然當局沒有提供「新聞採訪報道」這一選項,然而對新聞專業來說,查冊是追查事實真相的重要工具,過去不少涉及重大公眾利益的偵查報道,均是透過查冊揭露。平常心看平常事,車牌查冊是記者常用調查方法,以往未聞有傳媒工作者因為「虛報查冊目的」被捕,今次事件對正常新聞偵查採訪,構成即時、直接和重大影響,新聞界擔心先例一開,偵查報道工作將大受掣肘,損害公眾知情權。究竟今次案件有何「不平常」之處,需要打破多年來約定俗成做法,警方有必要清楚解釋。

今年7月,《鏗鏘集》播出有關去年元朗7.21事件的專題報道,節目提到當日在鳳攸北街出現過一些接載白衣人的車輛,《鏗鏘集》透過車牌查冊,追查其中數輛汽車的持有人,並根據車牌登記地址,逐一接觸車主。節目播出涉事私家車片段時,有模糊遮掩車牌。有份製作專題報道的編導蔡玉玲昨天被捕。有指蔡玉玲涉嫌違反《道路交通條例》,以不正當資料做車輛查冊,作出虛假陳述。警方未有公開交代具體案情,事件中有沒有人行為不當,現階段無法評論。

全港可供查閱的註冊資料有過百種,由公司董事到公職人員的個人資料,都可讓公眾查閱。車輛查冊方面,市民只需付款45元,便可根據車牌號碼,查出車輛資料及車主身分,包括名字、身分證號碼與登記地址。相關資料主要供汽車買賣之用,方便準車主查閱上手車主資料,不過車輛查冊也是記者偵查報道的重要工具。由政府高官僭建到選舉種票,很多重要新聞均是透過查冊方式揭露,查車牌正是記者常用的調查方法之一,倘若失去了這一渠道,將影響記者追查事實真相。

現在忽然有新聞工作者,疑因查冊作偵查報道之用,遭警方拘捕,多年來約定俗成的遊戲規則突被打破,所有記者難免擔心,現在查冊找新聞線索可能惹禍上身,出現寒蟬效應。

《鏗鏘集》編導被捕,具體案情尚不清楚,無論如何,事件對新聞界正常工作已構成即時影響,警方需要說清楚,究竟事件有何不平常、不正常的地方,導致當局要採取如此不尋常兼罕見的行動。

■Glossary

生字

necessitate : to make sth necessary

quest : a long search for sth

chilling effect : A discouraging or deterring effect on the behaviour of an individual or group, especially the inhibition of the exercise of a constitutional right, such as freedom of speech, through fear of legal action

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