If you read in Chinese, they censor the nudes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2009, 12:00am

For the second time in nine months, National Geographic magazine is being sold in a sealed plastic bag carrying the warning required for pornographic publications - that it be kept away from readers below 18.

But the warning applies only to its Chinese-language edition. The English-language edition, which carries the same article and photographs that appear to have prompted the warning, is for sale on newsstands and in bookshops without any warning label or transparent wrapping.

The article in question in the magazine's May issue is headlined 'Searching for Shangri-la', and features a colour photograph of a group of half-naked women of the Lisu ethnic minority bathing in a pool in a ritual that celebrates the coming of spring. The issue also features a black-and-white photo of a topless woman native of Saunders Island in the South Atlantic mending fur jackets.

'This article contains material which may offend and may not be distributed, circulated, sold, hired, given, lent, shown, played or projected to a person under the age of 18 years,' the warning reads.

The Obscene Articles Tribunal confirmed it had not received any submission to classify the magazine.

Hai Xia Publishing, the distributor for the magazine's Chinese edition, could not be reached to clarify whether the two photos were the reason for the warning. National Geographic's local office said it had not received any instructions to attach warning labels. It said it was responsible only for the English edition.

Lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said the rules under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, and their enforcement, were a source of confusion, so publishers and distributers would rather err on the side of caution.

'This is self-censorship in a way,' Mr Wong said, and suggested the practice was not conducive to maintaining free speech.

The magazine was first sold in a packet carrying the same warning label in October. That month's issue contained computer-generated images of a naked Neanderthal woman holding a spear. Mr Wong said at the time that Hong Kong's anti- pornography law was absurd and would damage the city's international image as a free society.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said earlier this year that it had completed the first stage of a review of the ordinance. The review covers definitions of obscenity and indecency, the classification of articles, the adjudication system, the regulation of obscene and indecent articles on the internet, penalties and publicity.

A bureau spokeswoman said it was analysing opinions collected in the first stage. She did not say what the second stage comprised.

Mr Wong criticised the lack of progress on the review and said he would press for action in the Legislative Council.