Obscenity law proposals set to be shot down

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 July, 2009, 12:00am

The government has received 'highly diverse' views during its first review in almost a decade of the city's obscenity laws, with no consensus within reach other than enhancing public education.

Several government proposals, including the introduction of a more specific classification system for publications, are likely to be struck down after failing to attract support from the public.

A paper on the four-month consultation, which ended in January, was presented to the Legislative Council yesterday. In it, the government said it would consider focusing on the most controversial topics when it reignited the debate later this year.

An independent consultant - commissioned by the government to compile views collected from 18,800 written submissions from the public, six town-hall forums, 11 focus-group discussions and 37 seminars - said controversies were found in most of the seven areas set out in the review.

'Views on different issues are highly diverse and no consensus has been reached,' the paper read.

'It is only on the importance of publicity and public education that members of the public are close to a consensus.'

One of the most heated debates was on controls over the internet, with the industry and users 'strongly opposed to any increased control both in principle and on technical grounds' while many members of the public, especially parents and educators, supported more regulation.

Diverse views were also found on the definitions of 'obscenity' and 'indecency', with some people supporting clearer definitions while others considered the existing ones adequate to maintain flexibility.

People also voiced concerns over the Obscene Articles Tribunal, with suggestions of increasing the pool of adjudicators and the number of adjudicators in each hearing.

'The consultant considers that maintaining the tribunal [and] improving the composition of its membership and adjudication procedures would enhance its transparency, representativeness and consistency of its decisions,' the paper said.

In the consultation paper released last year, the government proposed a revamped classification system, in which articles now classified as Class II indecent - restricted to persons above 18 - would be subdivided into two classes and restricted to persons above 15 and 18 respectively.

But this proposal is unlikely to appear in the discussion later this year, as the consultant reported that 'many supported the existing classification system and did not see a need for change'.

Charles Mok, chairman of the Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter, said more consultations would serve little purpose if the government did not take a position.

'These areas are all very controversial and the findings have reflected quite a fair picture,' he said. 'The government should at least tell the public which directions are viable and which are not, both legally and technically.'

He said other countries were taking the initiative on the issue and urged the government to refer to international standards.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said it would map out the proposals for the second round of public consultation, which would start before the end of the year.