Choy was fined HK$6,000 after being found guilty of two counts of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance by making false declarations – namely ticking a box to say her searches were for “other traffic and transport related matters”.
Speaking to the media after the court hearing, the award-winning producer again denied any wrongdoing and said the magistrate’s ruling was a “disproportionate and unreasonable restraint on press freedom” that would have “very bad implications” for journalists trying to uncover the truth through data searches.
“Today is a very dark day for all journalists in Hong Kong, not just for me personally … it’s a ruling on journalism in Hong Kong,” she said.
“The court ruled that searching for public information or access to public data is no longer allowed in Hong Kong, a civilised city where once we were well known for our transparency and accountability.”
Choy called on people in the industry to continue to uphold the highest standards of journalism, and find alternative ways to get to the truth.
“The decision of the magistrate is a very heartbreaking one and I personally felt very sorry and very sad for the magistrate to convict me. Even though I was found guilty in court, I don’t [think] the values of the investigative stories on [RTHK’s] Hong Kong Connection should be judged by the court, nor the authorities… I hope the industry can find a way out to pursue our highest value of journalism in the long run.”
The 37-year-old added that she would talk to her legal team about whether to challenge the court decision.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Journalists Association, Chris Yeung, said Thursday’s ruling was the clearest indication yet that press freedom is being seriously undermined in Hong Kong.
“Today will be remembered and must be remembered in history… a reporter in Hong Kong who conducted vehicle searches to find out more about the Yuen Long attacks demonstrated the role of the media as a watchdog. The relentless effort of the journalist to find out the whole truth of the Yuen Long attack … this is what the fourth power is about,” Yeung said.
“The government sent the reporter to the dock. She was found guilty. The fourth power is under threat. Press freedom in Hong Kong is dying.”
The chairwoman of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, Glady Chiu, meanwhile, thanked Choy for being “courageous” and for standing up for what she believes in.
“The fourth power is not a privilege, but it is a vital check and balance mechanism to watch over those in power. And Bao Choy has upheld journalistic beliefs in the pursuit of the public good. Thank you very much, and you have our back”, Chiu said.
The union chief noted that RTHK management, however, had refused to cover any of Choy’s legal costs.