Voter roll access line set for reporters

Local | Staff reporters 28 May 2020

Reporters will be allowed access to voter registries but only if they work with media organizations registered with the government, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

That means those listed with the Government News and Media Information System, which processes official press releases.

So freelance reporters and "citizen reporters" who do not work for media organizations will not be able to get their hands on registry information.

The Court of Appeal had last week handed a partial victory to the Junior Police Officers' Association when it ruled it was unconstitutional to allow unrestricted public access to voter registries.

The SAR's largest police group had challenged open access to the registries, saying that would facilitate doxxing of police officers and put their safety at risk.

The court found that such access to the registries, which include electors' names and home addresses, fails to strike a balance between ensuring transparent elections and people's privacy.

But the court also ruled that candidates, political parties and members of the press should continue to have access to the information for purposes related to elections.

Senior counsel Abraham Chan Lok-shung, for the association, had said "a mechanism to examine the identity of media is needed as it cannot let anyone who claims himself or herself to be a reporter to access voter registries."

Senior counsel Raymond Leung Wai-man, for the Electoral Affairs Commission, agreed and said "only GIS subscribers can access voter registries."

But the Hong Kong Journalists Association objected, saying there is no appeal mechanism in GIS.

It also noted GIS does not accept applications from freelance writers even if many of them are undertaking investigative work for news agencies.

It suggested the court identify reporters with "journalism work."

But Court of Appeal vice-president Johnson Lam Man-hon said the case was not to discuss the definition of reporter and it was not appropriate for the court to define it at this stage. So the court took up the Electoral Affairs Commission's suggestion.

According to guidelines, GIS subscribers are mass news media organizations whose principal business is the regular reporting of original news for dissemination to the general public.

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