The High Court decided on Friday that an injunction applied for by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) prohibiting the publication of leaked recordings of a closed-door governing Council meeting will continue until the next hearing, though its terms will likely be amended. Meanwhile, Commercial Radio released a statement promising never to reveal the identity of the source who supplied the recordings.
On Thursday, Commercial Radio and HKU reached a consensus in the High Court, with Commercial Radio agreeing not to republish the two leaked recordings of the Council meeting. However, members of the public may still republish content that was already posted in the public domain, the court said. Apple Daily then reported that HKU had asked Commercial Radio to reveal the name of the source, but on Friday the Commercial Radio team announced that they will never reveal the source’s identity.
The case continued in High Court on Friday morning with regards to whether the injunction will affect defendants other than Commercial Radio.
Apple Daily, HKU Alumni Concern Group member Ip Kin-yuen, The Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA), Undergrad editor-in-chief Lau Yi-cheng and a second year HKU student joined in the proceedings, Stand News reported. They were represented by Senior Counsels Martin Lee Chu-ming, Hectar Pun, Alan Leong Kah-kit as well as barristers Tam Chun-kit and Wong Shui-hung. Student leader Billy Fung Jing-en, who had disclosed contents of the meeting prior to the leaks, was seen in the audience at the hearing.
Extension of an ‘unjust’ injunction
In court, HKU said that the injunction aimed at protecting the confidential contents of the Council meeting and did not intend to impose restrictions on press freedom. The university said that they were willing to amend the terms of the injunction and requested pushing back the date of the hearing by two weeks so as to collect more evidence. However, the defence said that it was merely an excuse to extend an injunction which was unjust.
Martin Lee said that the contents of the meeting had been revealed by Billy Fung long ago and that it was already in the public domain, so the law could not prevent it from being published. Lee also said that HKU Council Chairperson Edward Leong Che-hung did not consult the other council members and did not have the right to apply for the injunction of behalf of the university.
The judge said that because many of the applicants only made submissions this morning, he did not have sufficient time to study the evidence, and the hearing will be adjourned in order to give HKU a fair chance to respond. In the meantime, the injunction will continue to take effect so as to prevent causing further damage to HKU. However, its terms will likely be amended so as to narrow it in scope, and the details of the amendment will be discussed in court on Friday afternoon.
Last week, Commercial Radio released two audio recordings of speeches made by Council members Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Leonie Ki Man-fung during a controversial session on September 29 in which the governing body rejected the appointment of former HKU law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun as pro-vice-chancellor of the university. HKU then obtained an interim injunction last Friday, forcing Commercial Radio to remove the recordings.
The interim injunction has drawn widespread criticism, with seven media unions protesting the decision and starting an online petition. The HKJA announced its decision to contest the injunction on Thursday, saying that “a tally of 946 HKJA journalists, teachers and students from schools of journalism has joined a signature campaign to call for the dropping of the injunction application to uphold press freedom… Publication of confidential information to expose injustice and corruption for the sake of public interest has always been and is the duty of every journalist and media institution.”
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a legal scholar at HKU, said that the media can continue to publish the recordings due to the fact that the HKU injunction includes a public domain clause, meaning that recordings from the internet that were already uploaded before the granting of the injunction were in the public domain and did not need to be taken down. Local newspaper Apple Daily subsequently uploaded the two recordings once again. The recordings also appeared later on local porn website, This AV.
A gentleman’s agreement
On Friday, Ip Kin-yuen told RTHK that the scope of the injunction was too wide. He said that the confidentiality regulations of HKU Council meetings used to be a gentleman’s agreement, but it now appeared to have become legally binding. Council members could easily be held in contempt of court as a result. Lawyer and Civic Party member Dennis Kwok also said that the injunction’s scope was a blow to press freedom, and that what was happening at HKU “was not a private matter” and the public had a right to know.
Head of HKU Journalism and Media Studies Centre Ying Chan also said she was outraged at the university’s decision to go after Commercial Radio regarding the recordings, saying that HKU “should not blame the messenger.” She also said that although she did not agree with the meeting being secretly recorded, the leaks were the product of the Council’s lack of transparency and accountability.