SCMP Monday, November 6, 2000

Reporters 'have nothing to fear' on anti-stalking law


The media should not fear the proposed anti-stalking law as it is not targeted at reporters, the Law Reform Commission said.
Under the new offence of harassment proposed by the commission, stalkers who cause "alarm and distress" to victims will face a maximum of two years' imprisonment.
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association has expressed fears over the commission's rejection of its proposal to include a public interest defence provision for news workers.
Chiu Wai-biu, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists said: "The commission report has said news gathering is legitimate but it cited an example saying paparazzi would be illegal. We are worried. What's the line between 'reasonable' and 'unreasonable' conduct?"
The commission recommended that anyone charged with harassment could argue their course of conduct was reasonable.
Wong Kwok-wah, a member of the commission's privacy subcommittee, told RTHK's City Forum that a public interest defence was unnecessary. He said the proposal was not targeted at reporters. "The [defence] that a course of conduct is 'reasonable' is even wider than a public interest [defence]," Mr Wong said.
" 'Reasonable conduct' includes public interest. As to the method of news coverage, it is not confined to public interest. Even non-public interest [conduct] can be classified as 'reasonable' provided the conduct does not cause fear or distress to the party involved." He said even if reporters asked questions which were not in the public interest, such as "are you dating?", they would not constitute a criminal offence under the proposed law.
District Court judge and the chairman of welfare group Harmony House, Wong Hing-chun, said the proposed law could help victims of domestic violence. Harmony House received 6,648 calls for help in the 1999-2000 financial year, representing an 18-fold increase compared with 15 years ago.
If a woman was a family violence victim, she must know the offender. That made this law very useful, he said.