Ban urged against unpopular cold calls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am

Lawmakers have attacked the government for not banning telephone marketing calls despite hearing that four out of five recipients said such calls caused inconvenience.

The administration has instead proposed a voluntary code of practice. Senior officials told the legislature's information technology and broadcasting panel yesterday that this was unlikely to put an end to the nuisance, but the measures at this stage should not kill off small businesses. The telecoms watchdog Ofta commissioned two surveys - on the public and the industry - in a year-long study of how to regulate calls made by people as distinct from automated calls, which are already subject to legislation.

It concluded there was no 'overwhelming case' to regulate these calls by legislation and proposed a voluntary code of practice with four major sectors.

The public survey found that 81 per cent of 967 interviewees said the calls had caused them inconvenience. But 13 per cent said they had gained benefits, such as discounts and gifts, while 21 per cent said they had made transactions in the calls.

Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah said there had been a strong public outcry about marketing calls.

'I wonder what the government is waiting for after 81 per cent of people declared their views,' he said. 'It is nonsense to say a ban will hinder business development. Companies can always opt for advertising.'

Lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the public was tired of nuisance calls.

'We are forced to bear the roaming cost when we take marketers' calls overseas. Why are these companies taking advantage of the recipients?' Wong said, adding that the existing spam law should have covered this from the start.

Education sector lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong of the Democratic Party urged the government to consider allocating specific numbers for marketing calls to allow people to identify them before answering.

Fellow Democrat Lee Wing-tat said Ofta should set up a central registry so that people who registered could avoid marketing calls.

Greg So Kam-leung, undersecretary for commerce and economic development, said it was important to balance the interests of the public and businesses, and the government would aim to reduce the nuisance calls through voluntary measures.

Director general of telecommunications Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen said the survey had shown diverse views from the public on legislation, and the measures taken should be proportionate to the problem.

But she admitted that the new proposals might not stop all the nuisance calls.

The Ofta survey found that the finance, telecommunications, call centres and insurance sectors had made 90 per cent of the 500,000 calls made every day.