LCQ5: Regulation of online television and radio programmes
Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Godfrey Leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):
With the advancements in information technology and the prevalence of the Internet, viewing online television programmes or listening to online radio programmes through computers and smart phones is increasingly popular among the public. Some members of the public have relayed to me that as online television and radio programmes can reach out to different sectors of society, the views of the public (and in particular the younger generation) about social affairs may be influenced by online programmes. They consider that instances of the hosts of online programmes using indecent expressions or spreading objectionable ideas are quite common. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as online programmes are not currently subject to regulation under the Broadcasting Ordinance and other relevant legislation, whether the authorities will consider establishing a framework (such as by enacting legislation or introducing a licensing regime) to regulate the operation of online television and radio stations as well as the contents of online programmes (including the expressions used by the hosts), as well as conducting studies and extensive consultation in this respect; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(2) how the authorities handle public complaints against online programmes at present; whether they handled and followed up relevant complaints in the past five years; if they did, of the ways in which they handled the complaints?
The aim of the Broadcasting Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 562) is to regulate television (TV) programme services. Online TV stations deliver their TV programmes through the Internet, which is one of the many forms for online dissemination of information. Since Internet service is exempted from regulation under the BO, it follows that it is not subject to the regulation of the Generic Code of Practice on Television Programme Standards issued by the Communications Authority (CA). On the other hand, as programmes of online radio stations are not sound broadcasting services transmitted via radio wave, they are not governed by the Telecommunications Ordinance (TO), and hence not subject to the regulation of the Radio Code of Practice on Programme Standards issued by the CA.
Broadcasting services under the regulation of the BO and the TO are mainly provided through designated frequency of radio waves or exclusive fixed networks. The above two media, capable of transmitting broadcasting signals for extensive reception by more than a million of audience or listeners across the territory at the same time in a direct and stable manner regardless of the volume of internet traffic, are the most effective and reliable broadcasting channels currently available. They provide a major source of information and entertainment to households. Therefore, one of the objectives of the BO and the TO is to monitor the contents and quality of such programmes targeting mainly local audience in Hong Kong. This is an appropriate and effective approach. Traditional TV and radio programmes are regulated by similar local laws in developed countries around the world.
As for Internet service (including online television stations and online radio stations, collectively referred to as online stations), this is a service of disseminating information through the Internet, with its mode of operation and target clients different from those of the traditional broadcasting service. Internet service is ubiquitous, any information uploaded online can be disseminated to all Internet users around the globe. On the other hand, Internet users in Hong Kong may readily receive information from websites provided in any parts of the world.
With the rapid advances of internet technology, the threshold for using online media becomes increasingly lower. For example, people in many different areas of the world may disseminate information in the form of image, voice, photo or text to Internet users all over the world via a host of online media such as Facebook, Youtube, or even self-constructed websites at any time they like. Dissemination of information through an online station is no different from uploading information onto the Internet. The production team and viewers/listeners of an online station are no longer limited to Hong Kong people. Instead, they spread widely over the world. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to regulate overseas websites effectively by Hong Kong legislation.
My consolidated reply to the two-part question is as follows:
Regarding the question on whether the Government should consider establishing a framework (such as by enacting legislation or introducing a licensing regime) to regulate the operation of online stations as well as the contents of online programmes as suggested by Member, as I have just explained, there are practical enforcement difficulties to regulate the dissemination of information by the public via the Internet. Regulation will become difficult if the operators upload the information onto websites outside Hong Kong. In fact, programmes of the so-called Hong Kong online stations may not necessarily be produced in Hong Kong. Moreover, as compared with traditional TV or radio stations which can reach millions of people at the same time, ordinary online broadcasting via the Internet is still lagging behind in terms of scale. Based on the above reasons, the Government has no intention of enacting legislation to regulate online stations at this stage.
As far as we understand, some overseas countries like the United States, Canada and Australia do not have regulatory control over online stations or consider such stations as providing broadcasting services, which is similar to the case of Hong Kong. We will keep in view the developments in overseas countries and review our regulatory policy as and when appropriate.
Although online programmes are not subject to regulation by the BO and the TO currently, their contents, just like those published via online platforms or in writing, are subject to regulation by general laws of Hong Kong, including the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) (Cap. 390). The COIAO regulates the publication of articles with obscene or indecent contents (including material which is violent, depraved or repulsive), including articles published on the Internet.
In view of the vast volume of ever-changing information available on the Internet, the Government adopts a complaint-driven and co-regulatory approach to control obscene and indecent contents on the Internet. Together with the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) has developed a Code of Practice. Under the Code of Practice, if the content under complaint is indecent, the webmaster will be requested to add a warning notice as required by law or remove the indecent article. If the content under complaint is likely to be obscene, the Internet service provider (ISP) concerned will block access to the article or request the webmaster to remove it. Moreover, OFNAA will refer cases involving obscene articles to the police for follow-up actions.
Over the past five years, OFNAA has received a total of 15 complaints about the contents of online programmes. After investigation, one of the complaints was found to involve an online radio programme that contained indecent language in its contents, and the website concerned has put up an appropriate warning notice in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Practice. One other complaint was found to involve an online TV programme that contained obscene contents, and OFNAA has referred the case to the police for follow-up actions. None of the remaining cases was found to involve contents that contravened the legislation.
In the second round of public consultation on the review of the COIAO, most of the respondents are in support of maintaining the existing co-regulatory approach for the new media. Taking into account the views received, we plan to establish a liaison group comprising information technology practitioners, representatives of ISPs and government representatives to enhance the existing co-regulatory framework and to update the Code of Practice in dealing with public complaints about the Internet. We will also step up our efforts in publicity and public education to promote the positive and healthy use of new media among youngsters. Furthermore, to achieve a greater deterrent effect, we plan to increase the maximum fines and terms of imprisonment prescribed for offences under the COIAO. We briefed the Legislative Council Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting on the details of the improvement measures in March 2015. Drafting of the amendment bill concerned is in progress.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015