We are a group of journalists, teachers and students of journalism. We deeply regret the University of Hong Kong’s move to obtain an interim injunction to forbid the Commercial Radio and any other persons from releasing audio recordings, papers and discussions of the HKU Council (“The Council”) meetings. The move is a severe blow to freedom of speech and of the press and deprives the public of the right to know. We urge the University to withdraw its application for such a gag order.
The controversy surrounding the Council’s handling of the appointment of a pro-vice-chancellor is of great public interest, involving the University’s institutional autonomy and academic freedom. It has drawn widespread concern in the society. According to the Guide and Code of Practice for Members of the Council of HKU, the Council’s decisions and actions must be held accountable to the public. All decisions and actions should be made public and be well explained. However, the Council has hidden behind the confidentiality rules and refused to explain why it did not accept the sole candidate recommended by a search committee. It has only repeatedly denied political interference was at play in the Council. This has deepened doubts in the society. Based on public interest, the media have the responsibility and reason to expose the workings of the Council. Commercial Radio was only fulfilling its duty when it released audio files believed to be taken during a council meeting. It let the public understand the underlying reasons behind the Council not following normal practice when voting down the recommendation of the search committee.
The injunction sought would undoubtedly restrict the freedoms of speech and of the press in Hong Kong. As stipulated in Article 16 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone shall have the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. The University's application for an injunction to bar everyone from using, disseminating and disclosing any audio clips, agenda, files, minutes and all other kinds of documents of its council meetings is seriously and disproportionately jeopardising the freedoms protected under the Covenant.
More worryingly, the action by the University to hinder the public from understanding and scrutinising an important decision by the Council may set a bad example for other public institutions and public office bearers to follow. This would obstruct the media from carrying out its duty as the fourth estate and encourage those in power to work in the dark. Public interests would certainly be harmed.
We must point out that it does not serve the public's interest for HKU to apply for an injunction. Such an injunction is unnecessary, not only because the meeting’s content - which the University seeks to remain confidential - was already exposed by the local media, the content is also believed to have spread abroad extensively through the internet. If the broadcast of the material were prohibited in Hong Kong, it would only limit the Hong Kong people’s right to know, while people overseas will be spreading it freely because they are out of our jurisdiction. This situation is utterly ridiculous to the people of Hong Kong.
Speech and press freedoms are the foundations for various civic liberties. We hope that the University, as the premier academic institution of Hong Kong, will stay true to its mission of promoting academic freedom and the guardian of speech and press freedoms, and withdraw its application for injunction. We also hope that the court will make a decision in favour of public interest when it handles the application on Friday.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Hong Kong Press Photographers Association
RTHK Programme Staff Union
Next Media Trade Union
Ming Pao Staff Association
Independent Commentators Association
Journalism Educators for Press Freedom
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