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LCQ2: Enforcement of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance

Following is a question by the Hon Choy So-yuk and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Frederick Ma, in the Legislative Council today (December 5):

Question:

The media recently uncovered that a number of inspection staff of the Newspapers Registration Section under the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) had, without permission, left their work for tea, movies and even workout in fitness centres, while they were on field duties. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) when the investigation conducted by TELA into the aforesaid incident will be completed and whether the investigation report will be made public;

(b) given that it has been reported that TELA has been using 3G video phones to monitor the work of its field staff since 2005, and supervisors at various levels also regularly conduct surprise checks and verify the work report of its staff, of the number of cases uncovered last year by TELA involving the breach of rules by inspection staff and, among such cases, the number of those which were substantiated, and the penalties imposed on the staff concerned; and

(c) given that TELA has previously submitted for classification three newspapers on which an identical set of nude photographs of an overseas female celebrity was published, but it failed to discover during its inspection that such photographs were also published in the NOW magazine, whether it will investigate if there was any dereliction of duties on the part of TELA staff; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) is one of the government departments involved in the enforcement of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (the Ordinance). Actions carried out by TELA include monitoring of articles on sale in the market and inspecting retail outlets selling these articles.

Officers responsible for the above actions are mainly Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors of TELA. They monitor articles such as newspapers, magazines and comic books available in the market and submit those suspected of breaching the Ordinance to the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) for classification. They also provide assistance in handling enquiries and complaints from the general public in relation to the Ordinance.

The Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors of TELA conduct joint operations with the Police against shops selling obscene and indecent articles regularly. They also carry out inspections at newspaper stalls, convenient stores, video shops and other outlets on the street or inside shopping centres, so as to check places where newspapers and VCDs are sold against the provisions of the Ordinance. Apart from enforcing the Ordinance, they are required to inspect cinemas and amusement game centres under the Film Censorship Ordinance and the Amusement Game Centres Ordinance respectively.

My reply to the Honourable Choy So-yuk's questions in seriatim is as follows:

(a) TELA has completed investigation regarding the recent media report on some of its inspectorate staff who had been absent from duty without leave. Since the investigation report contains personal data and details of the disciplinary actions, it will not be disclosed. According to the established practice of the Government, details of individual cases involving disciplinary actions will not be disclosed and all closed cases shall be kept confidential. Although the report may not be disclosed, findings of the investigation indicate that some of the staff have been involved in breach of regulations. TELA has handled the case seriously by taking disciplinary actions against the officers concerned according to the established civil service procedures, which include suspension from duty and issuance of written warning, and one of the officers has left service. Members can rest assured that the case has been handled seriously and I would like to reiterate that the Administration will not tolerate any officers for dereliction of duty or breach of regulations.

(b) TELA regularly reviews its measures in monitoring staff on field inspection duties. Apart from surprise checks by managerial staff and verification of inspection reports by supervisors, TELA has introduced a new monitoring measure in 2005 i.e. the use of automatic location identification feature of 3G phones to monitor the whereabouts of inspection staff. Up till now, TELA has uncovered five cases involving the breach of regulations (the case in question not included). After internal investigation, TELA has handled these cases in strict accordance with the established civil service procedures.

TELA will strengthen measures to monitor its staff on field duties by increasing the number of surprise checks by supervisors and more frequent use of the automatic location identification feature of 3G phones.

(c) Actions carried out by TELA under the Ordinance include monitoring of newspapers and magazines on sale in Hong Kong. Given the large number and broad variety of local and foreign newspapers and magazines being sold in Hong Kong and the huge number of outlets all over Hong Kong, there is genuine practical difficulty to inspect all newspapers and magazines sold in Hong Kong and to inspect all the retail outlets. Therefore, the strategy adopted by TELA is to focus on monitoring those publications that are available at newsstands and convenient stores that are readily accessible by the public. In respect of the foreign magazine mentioned in the third part of the question, TELA had carried out monitoring inspection in accordance with the above procedures. As the magazine under complaint was not found in local newsstands or convenient stores during inspection at that time, no further action has been taken. The case concerned neither involves selective enforcement, nor dereliction of duty on the part of TELA staff.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007