LCQ12: Free newspaper containing indecent content
Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 2):
I have recently received complaints from quite a number of education bodies and members of the public (including school principals and parents), indicating that the recently launched free newspaper, Sharp Daily, contains indecent contents, and allegedly promotes pornography. Up to mid-October this year, the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority had already received 193 complaints in this regard. In addition, the Obscene Articles Tribunal classified nine articles and their audio recordings on the Internet version of the newspaper as Class II (indecent) articles. The education bodies and members of the public also pointed out that as the newspaper is distributed to the public free of charge, children as well as youngsters can easily obtain and read the newspaper, and are exposed to the erotic and obscene contents therein, thereby causing undesirable impact on their development. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that at present, even if a free newspaper contains indecent contents, the authorities often cannot promptly stop it from being put on the market, and only classify the contents of the newspaper after it has been published, which cannot prevent people under the age of 18 from exposure to the relevant contents, whether the Government has any measure to plug the existing loophole;
(b) regarding those paid or free newspapers that often contain indecent or erotic contents, whether the Government will study adopting measures or penalties with greater deterrence, so as to prevent them from including erotic contents again;
(c) given that the number of free newspapers which are openly distributed to the public in Hong Kong has been on the increase, whether the authorities will study introducing some new measures to ensure that the contents of this kind of newspaper are suitable for people of all ages; and
(d) given that at present, copies of free newspapers (including Sharp Daily) are displayed at the lobbies of some housing estates or residential buildings for their residents to obtain and read, some residents have indicated their wish to temporarily disallow placing Sharp Daily in their housing estates or residential buildings, so as to prevent youngsters from exposure to the erotic contents therein, whether the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society will take the lead in disallowing free newspapers that often contain indecent or erotic contents to be placed and distributed in the public housing estates or Home Ownership Scheme estates under their management?
(a), (b) and (c) Sharp Daily was launched on September 19, 2011. As at October 31, 2011, the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) has received a total of 197 complaints against the newspaper for carrying indecent, obscene and violent content. TELA conducted investigations into the complaints and has submitted 26 articles suspected of contravening the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) (Cap 390) to the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) for classification. Among these articles, 20 have been classified by the OAT as Class II (indecent) articles as at October 31, 2011. On October 18, 2011, TELA took prosecution action against the publisher in respect of a number of articles published in Sharp Daily. TELA also wrote to the publisher requesting it to pay serious attention to the complaints lodged by members of the public against Sharp Daily for publishing indecent articles for a number of days in a row, and reminding it that all articles published should comply with the legal requirements and that the Government would take prosecution actions against any publisher who illegally publishes indecent articles.
On regulating the publication of articles, the Government's longstanding policy is to preserve the free flow of information and safeguard the freedom of speech while applying standards of public decency to articles, especially those intended for young and impressionable people. Freedom of speech has always been a core value that the Government is determined to safeguard. As such, there is no compulsory pre-censorship before the publication of an article under the law. However the publisher has a clear responsibility to ensure that any publication is in compliance with the law, including the provisions prohibiting the publication of obscene articles to juveniles and on relevant penalties. Section 10 of the COIAO provides that the OAT shall have regard to the following factors in classifying an article:
(a) standards of morality, decency and propriety that are generally accepted by reasonable members of the community;
(b) the dominant effect of an article as a whole;
(c) the persons or class of persons, or age groups of persons, to or amongst whom the article is intended to be published;
(d) in the case of matter publicly displayed, the location where the matter is to be publicly displayed and the persons or class of persons, or age groups of persons likely to view such matter; and
(e) whether the article or matter has an honest purpose or whether its content is merely camouflage designed to render any part of it acceptable.
Currently, the Government has no plans to change the regulatory regime for the publication of articles. TELA will continue to closely monitor all articles published in the market, and will refer any article suspected of contravening the COIAO to the OAT for classification after consideration of such factors as the age groups of persons to whom the article (e.g. a free newspaper) is intended to be published or, in the case of matter publicly displayed, the location where the matter is publicly displayed and the persons likely to view such matter. Appropriate follow-up actions, including prosecution, will be taken against articles classified as indecent or obscene.
Under the COIAO, the maximum penalty for publishing an obscene article is a fine of $1,000,000 and imprisonment for three years. As for publication of an indecent article, the maximum penalty is a fine of $400,000 and imprisonment for 12 months on first conviction, and a fine of $800,000 and imprisonment for 12 months on second or subsequent conviction. These penalties are equally applicable to paid or free newspapers. Moreover, we are aware that some members of the public have considered the penalties imposed on publishers of indecent articles in the past too lenient. TELA will closely monitor the penalties handed down by the court for a breach of the COIAO, and where necessary, will apply to the court for a review of penalty.
(d) The Housing Department does not allow newspaper publishers/distributors to distribute or exhibit free newspapers in public rental housing estates of the Hong Kong Housing Authority. As for whether to allow the distribution or exhibition of free newspapers in Home Ownership Scheme estates, the decision rests with the relevant owners' corporations or owners' committees.
Similarly, the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) does not allow newspaper publishers/distributors to distribute or exhibit free newspapers in its rental housing estates. As for housing estates sold by the HKHS, the decision rests with the relevant owners' corporations or owners' committees.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011