Undersecretary defends review of obscenity law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am

Move will not throttle internet freedom, says deputy minister

Undersecretary for commerce and economic development Greg So Kam-leung said the obscenity law review was not aimed at restricting information flow, and the government was not seeking to regulate private communication on the internet.

The review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, unveiled this month, proposes changes in seven areas including adjudication and classification, and regulations governing obscene material on the internet.

The review has attracted fierce criticism from people worried that it is a move to tighten internet control.

However, Mr So defended the government's proposals, saying that they would help enhance the flow of information.

One controversy that prompted the review was the celebrity sex-photo scandal this year, when internet users shared images of Hong Kong pop stars having sex via peer-to-peer software.

But it was unclear whether the sharing fell within the definition of 'publication to the public' in law.

'Private communications are actually not exempt from the existing regulatory regime,' Mr So said. 'With clearer definitions of the terms, such as 'public', internet users will in fact be under better protection '

Stressing the government took no position in the consultation, Mr So said its proposal that internet service providers provide filtering software 'remained one of the choices', and it would not restrict public access to information.

Under the proposal, parents would be given the choice to apply filtering software against undesirable online material that could be turned on when their children were online. Mr So said some ISPs already provided such software.

He said the proposal would make it mandatory for ISPs to offer parents the software, but it would not be compulsory for them to use it.

Mr So said he was confident the first round of consultations, to be completed by the end of January, would help narrow down the differences in opinion in the city.

'We list all choices - from the most liberal to most conservative in the spectrum - to facilitate public discussions. But it must be an exercise in compromise and tolerance. After all, Hong Kong is a diversified society.'

Mr So said the review of present laws had 'no urgency', but new technology had created a need for change.

'What we want to do is enhance co-operation to protect youths from coming into contact with indecent material. We cherish the freedom of expression, but it is not unchecked, as we can see from any developed countries,' he said.

Mr So said the Court of First Instance ruling last week that criticised the Obscene Articles Tribunal for failing to do its job would be taken as an important reference point in the review exercise.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said it had so far received 80 online submissions to the consultation.