New obscenity rules 'will not curb free speech'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 October, 2008, 12:00am

The proposed new regulations on obscenity would not curb freedom of speech, but would try to strike a balance between easing the flow of information and protecting youngsters from indecent material, the undersecretary for commerce and economic development said.

Greg So Kam-leung, speaking on a radio programme a day after announcing a consultation paper on improving the regulation of obscene and indecent articles, disputed accusations that the government wanted to tighten freedom of speech.

'It is not Article 23, it is Article 27; it is what protects our freedom of speech under the Basic Law. It is the core value of Hong Kong people that we must uphold,' Mr So said.

The proposals targeted obscenity, not political scrutiny, he said.

In the consultation paper, the government suggests measures such as a number of regulations to curb access to obscene and indecent materials on the Web. These might include requiring internet service providers to provide filtering software and demanding customers' credit-card details, to check the age of Web users.

A caller to the radio phone-in programme expressed concern about stringent measures in internet bars and cafes where youngsters surf the internet, such as forcing operators to install filtering software. Mr So said the government would not require internet bars to install such software.

'It may be difficult in these internet bars because many people go there to obtain information. Such a move may also affect their business. We have to find a balance,' Mr So said. The government had not taken a stand on the issue, he said, urging people to express their views by the consultation deadline, January 31.

The commissioner for television and entertainment licensing, Maisie Cheng Mei-sze, noted in another programme that Hong Kong faced challenges in regulating obscenity, just like many overseas jurisdictions.

'At present, the regulation of obscene and indecent articles relies on co-operation between internet service providers and the government, and we can only urge them to remove obscene materials from the Net,' Ms Cheng said. 'We will see if we should continue such practices during the consultation.'

Meanwhile, on a separate radio programme, Privacy Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun discussed the consultation paper's suggestion that users might need to register their credit-card details.

'We do not know if such a suggestion violates privacy ordinances; we will study it. We must be concerned with both the public interest and the individual's privacy,' Mr Woo said.