LCQ7: Regulation of electronic game products
Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 13):
It has been reported that at present, quite a number of countries and places (such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) have implemented systems for pre-sale censorship and classification of electronic game products, and required that classification labels be affixed to the packaging of such products. Recently, a gory and violent electronic game product has separately been classified as "allowed to be sold to persons above the age of 17 only" in the United States and Canada, and as "sale to persons under the age of 18 prohibited" in the United Kingdom and Australia. On the other hand, there is no such pre-sale censorship and classification system under the laws of Hong Kong. In addition, as the warning label "persons under the age of 18 not permitted to buy" on some of those game products is only affixed by some sale agents on a voluntary basis and has no legal effect, quite a number of shops are selling such electronic game products to minors. Some youth service organisations have pointed out that such electronic games dramatise violence and will easily lead youngsters to imitating the violent and cruel acts in those games. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the authorities will make reference to the practices in overseas places, and enact legislation to stipulate that electronic game products must be submitted for censorship prior to sale, to ban the sale of electronic game products classified as gory and violent to minors, and to require that the packaging of such products be affixed with the aforesaid warning label before sale; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) notwithstanding that at present the authorities may, under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390), institute prosecutions against persons who publish to minors gory and violent electronic games which are classified as Class II (indecent) articles, since it has been reported that there was only one conviction from 2010 to September 30, 2013 and the convicted person was fined $2,000 only, whether the authorities will amend the Ordinance to increase the relevant penalties so as to curb the sale of such products to minors; and
(c) whether the authorities will step up promotional and educational efforts to increase the awareness among youngsters and their parents of the hazards of gory and violent electronic games on youngsters' psychological health, and help youngsters to guard against and avoid indulging in playing such games; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390) (COIAO) regulates the publication of articles with obscene or indecent content (including material which is violent, depraved or repulsive). Articles regulated by the COIAO include electronic games published in Hong Kong.
According to section 24 of the COIAO, any person publishing an indecent article must comply with the relevant statutory requirements, including sealing the article in a wrapper and displaying on the front and back covers the statutory warning notice, which states that the article concerned may not be sold to a person under 18 years old. The warning notice should occupy at least 20% of the front and back covers of the article. In addition, according to section 22 of the COIAO, it is an offence to publish an indecent article to a person under 18 years old.
The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) has been conducting inspections of local retail outlets of electronic games to ensure that the electronic games sold are in compliance with the requirements stipulated in the COIAO, and takes appropriate follow-up actions when necessary, including submitting electronic games that are suspected to be in violation of the COIAO to the Obscene Articles Tribunal for classification and taking prosecution actions against persons who publish electronic games in contravention of the COIAO.
My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(a) OFNAA had conducted inspections of various electronic game retail outlets, and found the electronic game in question to have been published in compliance with the requirements under section 24 of the COIAO, including sealing the game in a wrapper and displaying the statutory warning notice. OFNAA also did not find any retail outlets selling the game concerned to persons under 18 years old.
On the subject of regulating the publication of obscene and indecent articles, the Government's long-standing policy is to strike a balance between applying standards of public decency to articles (especially those intended for young and impressionable people) and preserving free flow of information and safeguarding freedom of expression. There is no compulsory pre-censorship before the publication of an article but publishers have the responsibility to ensure that any publication is in compliance with the law, including that indecent articles should not be published to persons under 18 years old. We do not have plans to change the above arrangements.
(b) Any person who publishes an indecent article in violation of the requirements under section 24 of the COIAO, or publishes an indecent article to a person under 18 years old in violation of section 22 of the COIAO is subject to a maximum penalty of a $400,000 fine and imprisonment for 12 months on first conviction, and a $800,000 fine and imprisonment for 12 months on second or subsequent convictions. Any person who publishes an obscene article in violation of section 21 of the COIAO is subject to a maximum penalty of a $1 million fine and imprisonment for 3 years.
The level of penalty handed down by the Court on each and every case is a judicial decision made in accordance with the circumstances of individual cases and the prevailing laws. We fully respect the Court's decisions. OFNAA will closely monitor the penalties handed down by the Court in cases related to the violation of the COIAO, and where necessary, will apply to the Court for a review of sentence after consulting the Department of Justice.
In addition, we briefed the Information Technology and Broadcasting Panel of the Legislative Council on the views collected during the second round of public consultation on the review of the COIAO in January 2013, including the proposal to increase the maximum penalty under the COIAO. We are considering the views of the public and relevant stakeholders on the review, with a view to mapping out the way forward.
(c) OFNAA regularly organises publicity and public education activities related to the COIAO on the potential harmful effects of violent electronic games on juveniles. In 2013/14, OFNAA will organise the following activities to advocate against violent electronic games:
(i) inviting schools and non-governmental organisations to participate in the "COIAO Subsidising Scheme" to organise publicity and public education activities to promote against violent electronic games;
(ii) organising roving exhibitions to advocate against violent electronic games;
(iii) organising the "Healthy Internet Video Contest" and "Inter-school Slogan and Colouring Competition" with promoting against violent electronic games as a theme; and
(iv) launching a radio drama, a roving drama for schools and the "Healthy Use of the Internet - Educational Kit for Secondary Schools" which include content that advocates against violent electronic games.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has also been providing young people and their parents with socialisation programmes and holistic supportive services through 138 integrated children and youth services centres and 65 integrated family service centres throughout the territory and two integrated services centres. Services include prevention of electronic games addiction among young people, parent support programmes as well as counselling. At the same time, SWD has been implementing the "one school social worker for each secondary school" scheme in all secondary schools in Hong Kong to focus on supporting the majority of young people who are still at school. Besides, SWD has commissioned three non-governmental organisations to each launch a three-year pilot cyber youth outreaching project (pilot project) since August 2011. The pilot projects make use of the Internet to reach out to young people in need, including those at-risk and hidden youth, and provide them with timely intervention and supportive services.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013