Wrong about newspapers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 1997, 12:00am

In his article headlined, 'TELA's tinkering with freedom of expression', which appeared in the Sunday Morning Post on March 2, Tim Hamlett made a number of inaccurate and misleading statements which need to be clarified for the benefit of your readers.

Firstly, the current campaign is jointly conducted by the police, the Customs and Excise Department and the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) in response to widespread community concern over the proliferation of obscene and indecent articles which have recently become increasingly accessible to young persons. Contrary to Mr Hamlett's belief, the campaign does not specifically target newspapers.

During the campaign period, we will step up our enforcement actions under the provisions of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO).

The police will deal with the sale of pornographic materials such as CD-ROMs and VCDs (video compact discs) at the wholesale and retail outlets, for example, video and computer shops in the district.

The Customs and Excise Department will tackle the problem at the entry points in the course of their copyright protection work.

TELA will monitor articles on sale in the market and issue summonses against publishers if their publications do not comply with statutory requirements.

Mr Hamlett is wrong in his assertion that 'raids are to be used as a punishment, awarded by officials without the formality of a trial'.

This is far from the truth. Search and seizures by enforcement agencies have always been conducted with care and due restraint and must be authorised in each case by warrants issued by magistrates.

They are conducted at known blackspots of wholesale and retail outlets in response to public complaints on the sale of pornographic CD-ROMs and VCDs.

Indeed, such raids are conducted for no other purpose than to gather evidence so that blatant cases of abuse can be brought before the courts.

Mr Hamlett is wrong again to imply that newspaper premises will be raided for the purposes of collecting evidence of salacious articles and gruesome photos.

We do no such thing.

As publications are on sale in the market, they themselves provide evidence as to whether they have exceeded the community standards on decency and propriety.

If articles in print publications are suspected to have exceeded the community standards, we will refer them to a judicial body, the Obscene Articles Tribunal, for a classification and, if justified, prosecute the publisher concerned by the issue of summonses.

Adults are of course free to choose what they want to read.

But the law does provide protection to young persons under the age of 18 from the undesirable effect of indecent articles.

For this purpose, indecent articles are classified under the law as Class II (indecent) publications, the sale of which must comply with the relevant provisions of the COIAO: articles must be sealed in wrappers with a warning notice and must not be sold to young persons under the age of 18.

Regular inspections by TELA staff to newspaper vendors are therefore primarily aimed at increasing their awareness that the sale of Class II (indecent) publications must follow the statutory requirements.

It was unfortunate that Mr Hamlett did not attend our press briefing on February 28. Nor had he taken the trouble to speak to me or any of my staff on this matter. Much of what he said in his article which was attributable to the staff of this office did not consequently reflect the full picture of our intentions.

EDDY CHAN Commissioner Television and Entertainment Licensing