Jimmy Lai’s Next Magazine fined for privacy breach over story on HK actress Cecilia Cheung’s family, in landmark prosecution

16-Jun-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s Next Magazine and its chief editor have been fined HK$120,000 (US$15,000) in total for publishing a copy of the birth certificate of Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi’s youngest son, in a landmark privacy prosecution.

Mak King-hing, 47, along with Next Digital and Element 5 Digital, the parent company and publisher of the magazine respectively, were each fined HK$40,000 at West Kowloon Court on Tuesday over a story published on the magazine’s website on January 28, 2019.

The defendants admitted breaking the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance by obtaining and publishing a copy of the child’s birth certificate without consent.

The case represents the first time Hong Kong prosecutors have invoked the city’s privacy legislation to charge media outlets and journalists.

Journalist Cheng Ching, 40, who confessed to applying for a copy of the certificate under false pretence, agreed to a binding-over order, which spares him a criminal record or a HK$2,000 penalty if he maintains good behaviour for a year.

Mak was charged with “disclosing personal data of a data subject which was obtained from a data user without data user’s consent” alongside the two companies, both of which are owned by Lai.

Cheng was charged with aiding and abetting the disclosure of the personal data.

The court heard Cheng, by pretending to be Cheung’s friend, obtained a copy of the birth certificate concerned from the Immigration Department on January 21, 2019. He claimed the document was for personal use.

Next Magazine, which ceased print publication in 2018 and has since transformed into an online news platform, ran a story a week later revealing the certificate’s content.

The story covered speculation regarding Cheung’s family life after the 41-year-old actress in 2011 divorced local pop singer Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, with whom she has two sons.

Cheung later lodged a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, which later passed the case onto police.

Maggie Wong Pui-kei SC, representing Mak and the two companies, said in mitigation the offences were committed out of negligence and insensitivity to the law.

A statement published on the magazine’s website said it offered a “sincere apology” to Cheung for violating her privacy and causing her distress, adding the story in question was withdrawn last year.

Principal Magistrate Ivy Chui Yee-mei accepted a fine was appropriate given the timely guilty pleas and the actions taken by the magazine to remind reporters to respect privacy laws in the future.

The Immigration Department has since the incident tightened access rules for birth, death or marriage records, requiring applicants to obtain prior consent from the data owner.

Making her film debut in 1999, Cheung won the Best Actress award in the 2004 edition of the Hong Kong Film Awards with her performance in Lost in Time.

Lai is the 73-year-old founder of Next Digital, which owns the Apple Daily tabloid and Next Magazine.



Category: Hong Kong

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