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Photos ruling triggers fresh controversy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am

New controversy arose yesterday over the rules for classifying indecent and obscene material after media pictures of celebrities engaged in sex acts with the most sensitive areas blanked out were ruled not to be indecent.

The interim ruling was made by the Obscene Articles Tribunal, which previously has classified as indecent pictures of Michelangelo's famed statue of David and a non-revealing but clandestine picture of one of the celebrities in her dressing room.

In the ruling, yet to be confirmed, the tribunal said an issue of Oriental Sunday and a Next Magazine supplement belonged in the Class I category - neither indecent or obscene.

Both published collections of strategically masked pictures purporting to show singer-actor Edison Chen Koon-hei in sexual positions with a string of female stars including Gillian Chung Yan-tung of Canto-pop duo Twins. Uncensored copies of the pictures had earlier been widely circulated on the internet.

The ruling prompted further criticism of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance and calls for a speedy review of the ordinance.

Media watchdog the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (Tela) later asked for a review of the interim classifications at a full hearing, to be open to the public.

Tribunal adjudicator Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, who was not involved in the case, said that under the current principles, photos that did not display sensitive body parts and sexual intercourse could avoid being classified as indecent.

'I don't think people are convinced by the ruling. Morally, these photos are not good because these are controversial photos and they are being put together simply to boost the sales of these publications,' Mr Cheung said. Oriental Sunday said the issue achieved record sales of 210,000 copies.

Mr Cheung believed the two publications had marginally got away with it because other matters such as the mass media's social responsibility had not been taken into account.

However, Anthony Fung Ying-him, a professor of journalism at Chinese University, said Tela and the tribunal had adopted a rigid stance to avoid controversy.

'It could be hard to judge objectively what these photos suggested, so they could only stick to the principle of whether private parts were shown,' Professor Fung said.

Mr Cheung said the case of a clandestine picture taken in Chung's dressing room, and the ruling on Michelangelo's David, needed to be taken into account in a review of the ordinance.

In 2006, an issue of Easy Finder magazine containing a photograph taken secretly of Chung changing clothes backstage at Malaysia's Genting Highlands resort was ruled indecent because although it did not show her nipples, it was presented with text that was 'extremely detailed, graphic and provocative'. A photo of Michelangelo's David was also classified as indecent in 1995 because it showed his genitals.

The new developments came as the number of complaints over Chung's appearance in a TVB charity show on Sunday night rose to more than 2,500 - 2,000 to the Broadcasting Authority and 538 to TVB. Some of the complaints referred to the 'bad image' Chung might give to children. Chung also appeared on TVB Canto-pop show Jade Solid Gold last night.