Tears and hugs as RTHK producer fined for license-plate search

Business | Maisy Mok 23 Apr 2021

RTHK producer Bao Choy Yuk-ling has been fined HK$6,000 after she was convicted of improper searches of an online car license plate database that was part of an investigative journalism piece to identify perpetrators in the 2019 Yuen Long mob attack.

The 37-year-old was seen breaking down in tears upon hearing the court decision and hugging her legal team.

The verdict came after the Hong Kong Connection documentary titled 7.21 Who Owns the Truth, which aired on July 13, won the Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award on Wednesday.

Choy had pleaded not guilty to two counts of making false declarations under the Road Traffic Ordinance while searching vehicle registration details for an episode of the program covering the Yuen Long attack in July 2019.

The defense has said Choy hoped to identify owners of vehicles that may have been used for crimes, which was in line with the declaration she made while conducting the search, which was "other transport and traffic matters."

But principal magistrate Ivy Chui Yee-mei yesterday said Choy's request for information was clearly for the purpose of news reporting and interviews, which had nothing to do with traffic and transport matters.

Chui also denied the defense's claim that the Commissioner for Transport must provide car registration information for the public regardless of their purpose, saying car owners would not expect their personal information to be used for purposes other than traffic-related matters.

If everyone could obtain sensitive personal information after paying a fee of HK$45, the privacy of car owners will be seriously affected, Chui said, adding the Transport Department should protect car owners from making their data freely available for public inspection.

She said it was not important whether Choy had good intentions when she conducted the search.

Chui also said Choy should not have made false statements even if the options provided by the Transport Department did not meet her needs, instead, she could try to obtain the information through other means, including filing a written application to the department.

In a media briefing outside the court after the hearing, Choy said the court decision was "heartbreaking" and she felt "very sorry and very sad" regarding the verdict.

She said she would need time to discuss with her legal team whether appealing against the court decision would be the best way forward.

Choy said although her occupation might change after the case, she will not give up her dream of journalism and will work as a journalist through other platforms.

"Even though I was found guilty in court, I don't see any value in the investigative stories of Hong Kong Connection being judged by the court or the authorities," Choy said. "Even though I was convicted, I don't see journalism as a crime and I hope the industry can find ways out to pursue our highest value of journalism in the long run."

The chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chris Yeung Kin-hing, said he felt "deep grief and anger" after hearing the court decision.

"A reporter was found guilty of a car search, which is part of reporters' normal job. [It] has seriously damaged the already vanishing freedom of the press in Hong Kong," Yeung said.

"Today, a reporter was convicted for fulfilling her duty for digging out more information in the public interest, it is a dark day for the Hong Kong press, it is a day of shame in Hong Kong," he added.

The RTHK documentary Hong Kong Connection: 7.21 Who Owns the Truth produced by Choy won the annual Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award on Wednesday, one day before Choy's verdict.

However, RTHK has rejected the award, saying it would not accept any media awards during a "transition period."

And, according to RTHK Programme Staff Union chairwoman Gladys Chiu Sin-yan, RTHK will not pay the legal fees for Choy.

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