Two days after HKU slapped an injunction on Commercial Radio following leaked recordings of closed-door meetings on the pro-vice-chancellor appointment, another recording from reportedly the same meeting was leaked, this time on a Taiwanese Internet forum.
In the tape leaked on late on November 8 by PTT, Johannes Chan’s former classmate at LSE Rosanna Wong Yik-ming voices her concern that the “potential controversy of this candidate” and his “strong political position” would not “unite, but on the contrary, further divide” HKU. Wong commented that Chan’s appointment was not in the “interest of the University.” This leak has not yet been legally dealt with and legal experts are debating whether it falls within the scope of the injunction.
HKU summoned Commercial Radio to court following two leaked recordings of the University’s governing body HKU Council’s members criticizing liberal scholar and former law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun with regard to his candidacy for pro-vice-chancellor. On October 28 and 30, two audio clips from internal meetings were leaked to the public by Commercial Radio, of Council members Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Leonie Ki Man-fung respectively during a private council meeting on September 29, criticizing Chan’s academic qualifications and personal integrity.
HKU took immediate legal action to obtain an injunction that would protect all past, present and future Council meetings and was granted an interim injunction order at the High Court on November 6 to ban further publication about the Council until the next hearing on November 24. The order has now been revised to protect only Council meetings concerning Chan’s appointment. A public-domain clause also exempts the two recordings that were already broadcasted, allowing other media organizations to freely distribute the two clips leaked last week.
Prior to the legal proceedings on November 6, HKU also demanded of Commercial Radio the identity of its source, to which the broadcaster released a statement vowing never to do so. Counsel for Commercial Radio Mike Lui told the South China Morning Post that his client “is still upholding press freedom, [having] already served the public interest by airing the clips so that the public are not misled over the issue.”
Scholars and journalists alike have responded to the injunction and HKU’s actions with severe disapproval because of the threat it may pose to press freedom.
Chan Yuen-ying, director of HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, told the Lion Post that “it is an absolute outrage for HKU to go after Commercial Radio and the news media for the leaks,” describing the events as having hailed “a shameful week for HKU.” Despite her acceptance of the Council’s grounded concern for the divulgence of private conversation, she believes ultimately “the leaks come as a response to the council’s lack of transparency and accountability.”
Stand News reported that Apple Daily, HKU Alumni Concern Group member Ip Kin-yuen, Undergrad editor-in-chief Lau yi-cheng and a second year HKU student also joined the hearings as interested parties, holding concerns about the implications on democratic news media in Hong Kong.
Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of the HKU academic staff association, has also expressed many staff members’ shock over the recent unfolding of events, as reported by South China Morning Post. He said, “Many of us feel that the way it was handled was very unreasonable.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), along with six other media unions and organizations, protested at HKU against the injunction order and are still urging the university to drop its legal action altogether. HKJA has also sent a letter to HKU expressing that the “publication of confidential information to protect public interest is the duty of every journalist and media institution.”
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong has also announced they will stand behind HKJA’s challenge to HKU’s injunction order, expressing on their Facebook page their “deep concern over the direct threat to press freedom posed by the extensive gag order obtained by the council of the University of Hong Kong against Commercial Radio and all other news media.”
Last month, more than 2000 students and staff of HKU participated in a silent rally on campus, also in protest of the Council’s vote to reject Chan. Principal organizer and Head of Humanities Timothy O’Leary, echoed the groups’ silent cries for autonomy and said, “We march in silence to demonstrate what a university would be like if its academic staff and students are silent.”
Prior to the march in early October, HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en made headlines for exposing the confidential discussions among Council members regarding Chan’s candidacy. As one of the students’ representatives on the Council, Fung argues in favor of the open and transparent operation of the Council, as well as the existence of a dissenting voice to call the Council’s injustice into question.
Billy Fung had exposed various controversial reasons given by the Council for voting against the former law dean that sparked public outcry. These ranged from Chan’s lack of a PhD to his “unimpressive” publication record on Google Scholar, as well as failure to display sympathy when a fellow Council member fainted on a previous occasion.
HKU staff, teachers and students are also set to hold a campus-wide vote on November 9 through 13 to urge the governing Council to restore transparency of internal affairs. In this way stakeholders would finally be able judge whether such decisions are in the best interest of the university.
This vote will also aim to garner opinion on whether Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, one of the Council members featured in the leaked recordings, is an appropriate candidate for the position of chairman, following the end of Dr. Leong Che-hung’s term on November 6.