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Hong Kong must ensure press can access business data

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his wife attend a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China on July 1, 2012. (AP/Kin Cheung)

New York, January 11, 2013--Hong Kong's government should withdraw a proposed regulation that would limit journalists' access to information about business leaders, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Hong Kong's Financial Services and Treasury Bureau and the Companies Registry submitted a briefing paper to the legislature's financial affairs panel this week outlining the plan to remove identifying details about company directors from financial documents starting in 2014, according to The Associated Press. Under the proposal, directors could also redact personal information from past filings, AP reported.

The regulation would obstruct investigative reporting. Journalists routinely use the personal information, which includes home addresses and identification numbers, to report on corruption and wrongdoing, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong, which have each issued statements opposing the move. "We regret that we were not invited to provide feedback on this change during a public consultation at the end of last year," the correspondents' club wrote in a letter published on its website.

The government must table the regulation for discussion, the journalists association reported. The timetable for its possible adoption is not clear.

"This regulation would be a dramatic blow to accountability and transparency, which would greatly harm Hong Kong's standing as an international financial center," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying should not allow its adoption."

Financial reporting has come under increased scrutiny in Hong Kong and mainland China in the past year. Chinese authorities censored Bloomberg news agency and The New York Times for exposing wealth accumulated by the families of top leaders in 2012. Those reports relied on data the regulation is seeking to restrict, according to AP. Hong Kong Journalists Association cited an additional six local investigative reports that would not have been possible without the data.

Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China in 1997 when it reverted from British to Chinese rule. Since then, the environment for the media has deteriorated as Beijing's influence has grown, according to CPJ research.

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