New obscenity measures floated

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Government proposes revised system to classify and regulate items

An independent classification board would be set up under government proposals to improve the regulation of obscene and indecent articles in the wake of the celebrity sex photos scandal.

The proposals, set out in a consultation paper released yesterday, also include a new system to classify articles and the mandatory provision of a filtering service by internet service providers. Board decisions would be subject to appeal to the Indecent Articles Tribunal, which now handles classifications.

The posting and publication of photos of female stars in sex acts with entertainer Edison Chen Koon-hei on the internet and in print media in March prompted calls for tighter controls over dissemination of obscene or indecent materials in various media.

Under the revamped classification system, articles now classified as Class II indecent would be subdivided into material restricted to persons above 15 and 18 respectively.

'We want to maintain the free flow of information and the freedom of speech, yet it is important to put teenagers under protection [from indecent or obscene materials],' the undersecretary for commerce and economic development, Greg So Kam-leung, said in launching the first round of consultation.

One of the options to improve the adjudication system of obscene articles is to set up a two-tier system under which an independent classification board would make interim classifications. The existing Obscene Articles Tribunal would remain as a judicial body to consider appeals against the board's decisions and deal with articles referred to the tribunal by courts.

The new classification board would draw in 20 to 30 lay members from sectors like education, social welfare, media, cultural services and district organisations. Under the existing arrangement, the tribunal, which is a judicial body, has exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether an article is obscene or indecent.

Another option is to improve the tribunal by drawing adjudicators from the list of 570,000 jurors in the city for each tribunal hearing, expanding the panel of adjudicators from the existing 300 to 500 or more.

The number of adjudicators at each hearing could also be raised.

The third option is to abolish the tribunal and authorise a magistrate to classify articles. Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said it was not plausible to abolish the tribunal or to draw adjudicators from the jurors' list as this would lay too heavy a burden on the judiciary system.

'[Classification] is a moral, not legal issue and it is better handled by the public instead of the court,' said Mr Tong, a senior counsel. 'A better proposal is to expand the tribunal.'

Mr So agreed that it would impose a heavy burden on the courts if a single magistrate was responsible for classifying articles as there were 70,000 classification cases a year.

Obscene Articles Tribunal adjudicator Mervyn Cheung Man-ping said it could not meet the demand with only 20 or 30 members in the independent classification board under the two-tier system proposal.

One option to improve the classification system is to divide indecent articles into Class IIA, restricted to those aged above 15, and IIB restricted to those above 18.

Class IIA articles would be required to provide statutory advice and subject to a wrapping requirement; Class IIB articles would be subject to a wrapping requirement and could only be displayed in premises restricted to people above 18.

Under the existing law, Class II articles must not be published or sold to people under 18.

The first round of consultation is scheduled to end on January 31.