Hong Kong’s largest journalist group has criticised the legislature’s administrative office for removing the names of lawmakers from meeting minutes. It said the move could impact public understanding of official procedures and how the media reports on the Legislative Council.

The Legislative Council Chamber on November 23, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The change, first noted by Ming Pao, has been implemented since the seventh Legislative Council (LegCo) term began last January, although it is not clear exactly when. The current council was the first to be elected under an overhauled electoral system that was introduced to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong.

Under the new policy, the names of government officials and lawmakers who speak in panel or committee meetings have been replaced by “a member”, “members”, or “the administration.”

A snippet of the meeting minutes for a Public Works Subcommittee of the Finance Committee meeting on October 26, 2022, where the name of the lawmaker who spoke was omitted in the minutes, and replaced by “a member.” Photo: LegCo, via screenshot.

Previously, meeting minutes showed the named of the lawmaker and the title of the government officials.

A snippet of the meeting minutes for a Public Works Subcommittee of the Finance Committee meeting on December 21, 2016, where the name of the lawmaker who spoke was shown in the minutes. Photo: LegCo, via screenshot.

In a response to HKFP, the Legislative Council (LegCo) Secretariat, an office that provides administrative support to the legislature, said that the move was implemented to make it “more convenient” for the public, lawmakers, and government officials to grasp the rundown of LegCo panel meetings, as well as the key points and responses in discussions.

“Since the seventh Legislative Council, the secretariat has optimised how committee meeting minutes are prepared, in order to concisely summarise and organise the main points of speeches made by meeting attendees,” the LegCo Secretariat statement read.

Time stamps were included in an appendix for all meeting minutes, the statement added. By cross-referencing those time stamps with video coverage of meetings, it should be possible to infer who said what. The secretariat’s statement also said that meeting minutes would only be confirmed after being reviewed and voted on by all lawmakers present at the meeting in question.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, in a statement on Tuesday, said that the new change would hinder the public’s right to know about legislative procedures and undermine people’s understanding of lawmakers’ work.

Hong Kong Journalists Association. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

“Lawmakers’ speeches directly reflect their performance, and omitting their names will make it more difficult for the public to identity who said what. One one hand, that would make it more difficult for the public to hold lawmakers accountable, and therefore affect how voters may vote,” the association’s statement read.

“On the other hand, omitting lawmakers’ name will also hinder the media’s ability to report on the legislature, making it more difficult for [the media] to be the ‘fourth estate’ and monitor the operations of the government and the legislature.”

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.