Fears over proposed media regulator

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am

Tolerance should be watchdog's guiding principle to protect freedom of speech, say seminar delegates

Concerns have been raised about possible over-regulation of media content under the proposed communications authority to be created to oversee the electronic media.

Speakers at a seminar organised by Democratic Party legislator Sin Chung-kai - who represents the information technology sector - supported the government's proposal to merge the Telecommunications Authority and Broadcasting Authority to form a communications authority. But some said the new super-regulator should focus on 'regulatory tolerance' instead of 'regulatory intervention'.

It is hoped the new regulator, which would have a chairman and five members, would be set up this year, as soon as the necessary legislation is passed.

Charles Mok, president of the Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter, said that under the new authority, the government should remove what he believed were unreasonable rules.

Citing an example of outdated regulations, Mr Mok said: 'Often, in some television food programmes, the hosts will say the food at a Japanese restaurant is very good, but they do not tell you which restaurant and where it is because of the existing broadcasting rules.

'We should let the market decide. Consumers or viewers know what information they want to receive.'

Mr Mok called for minimal regulations over content, saying: 'Freedom of information is of critical importance to Hong Kong.' He also said the guiding principle of the new body should be 'regulatory tolerance', especially when dealing with new services made possible by emerging technology, such as user-created reality TV like the notorious internet Bus Uncle footage.

Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen, a deputy secretary for commerce, industry and technology, told yesterday's seminar the government was aware of concerns that the new regulatory system could restrict communications, or even give rise to surveillance.

'This is not the aim of the overhaul. And, actually, one public mission of the new authority is to uphold freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 27 of the Basic Law and relevant provisions of the Bills of Rights Ordinance,' Mrs Lai said.

She also promised that the new authority would be represented by independent members from various sectors and professions.

Xu Yan, an associate professor of the Department of Information and Systems Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the reform was long overdue.

The telecommunications industry's modes of operation were very different from those of the past because of technological developments, he said.

'The process of convergence is not a simple blend of telecom, print and broadcasting, but the implementation of computer power in all media technologies.'

The government has extended the public consultation period on the new watchdog from yesterday to June 16.