Hong Kong's graft buster on Wednesday demanded the handover of transcripts and audio from a commercial radio station and a magazine to investigate a former Beijing political adviser, a move deemed inappropriate and damaging to press freedom by the Journalists Association.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption, with the backing of a court order, asked the web-based magazine iSunAffairs Weekly to hand over notes, voice and video recordings of an interview conducted in January with Lew Mong-hung, a former delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a major supporter of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying.
The association said in a statement that the action taken by the commission in seeking raw news materials from the two media organizations was "extremely inappropriate, seriously affecting press freedom and weakening public confidence in journalists' independence and duty to protect the sources."
Commercial Radio Hong Kong, which broadcast Lew's two-part interview in a program in January, was asked to submit the uncut recordings, but can contest the order in a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 27.
According to the association, the court order does not specify why the media has to hand over the materials and fails to convince the public that such action is taken in the interest of the public, as required by law.
"Protecting sources is the underlying rule of thumb for journalists," the group said.
"The action taken by ICAC was extraordinary and makes people wonder if the authority is trying to foster a norm under which law enforcement agencies can turn news media workers into a tool of investigation and prosecution, neglecting the code of conduct and freedom of press," it added.
The ICAC said in a statement it recognizes and respects press freedom, and that it has consulted the Justice Department before applying for the court order.
In the interviews, Lew revealed an unspoken deal he allegedly made with Chief Executive Leung.
Specifically, Lew said he received the promise to be appointed to the Executive Council, Leung's Cabinet, in return for his help in garnering Beijing's support for Leung ahead of Hong Kong's leadership election.
The deal fell through, with Leung reportedly promising to recommend Lew to retain a delegate seat in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, but at the end Leung broke his promise again and Lew lost his delegate post.
Lew was arrested by the ICAC in January for alleged bribery related to his petrol investment business Pearl Oriental Oil Ltd., but was later released on bail.
He was arrested again in February for alleged perjury after reportedly sending a blackmail letter to Leung, and then again released on bail.