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  • Jul 11, 2014
  • Updated: 5:14am

20 years of watching porn, all in the name of public interest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 May, 2010, 12:00am

Wilson Yip Hing-kwok has been watching pornographic videos for the past two decades. He says it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

Once every few months, the 59-year-old Kwun Tong district councillor sits in a court room in Eastern Court in Sai Wan Ho for an eight-hour hearing. His task, along with another lay adjudicator and a presiding judge, is to decide whether pornographic videos and, sometimes, publications, can legally be seen in Hong Kong.

Yip is now one of the most senior veterans in the Obscene Articles Tribunal - a statutory legal body established 23 years ago to draw the line under the city's moral standards.

'It is semi-voluntary work and I take it as serving society,' Yip said, adding that they received an hourly rate of HK$100 for their work. 'But sometimes it is really disgusting to spend hours watching the videos.'

In the past it was not hours, but days, he recalled. But there has been a 95 per cent decrease in the tribunal's workload over the past decade, along with a similar collapse in sales of pornographic discs - rendered obsolete by the rise of internet porn. The adult video vendors once prevalent in Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po have all but vanished, leading to a drastic drop in seizures that would have gone to the tribunal for classification.

A few years ago Yip served on a case that took eight consecutive days after a truckload of discs was seized. The two adjudicators had to watch them one by one. 'We just yelled when we saw the 'scenes',' he said, referring to explicit depictions of sexual acts, which would result in most circumstances, if not all, in a rating of Class III - obscene and banned.

The law is vague, with 'obscenity' and 'indecency' both defined as 'violence, depravity and repulsiveness'. Adjudicators have to judge material by the generally accepted moral standards, the dominant effect of the article as a whole, the recipient, location of display and whether the material has an honest purpose.

Yip, who has served since 1991, said there was 'an unseen line' between obscenity and indecency that adjudicators normally followed, but it was not absolute. 'The adjudicator can always raise a disagreement if he thinks otherwise,' he said. 'But I think it generally reflects the average moral standard of the public.'

That line had also been adjusted over the years in a more liberal direction, Yip said. 'For example, exposure of genitals had to be classified as obscene in the early 1990s but they are now mostly indecent,' he said. 'Society is more open nowadays and we adapt to the changing standards.'

Adjudicator Mary Ann King Pui-wa, a women's rights activist appointed in 2004, said the line was now liberal to an extent that sometimes she could not agree. She said the presiding judge was influential in hearings, guiding the adjudicators about prevailing social norms.

'I came across a video about a woman being raped and another about incest. Both were only rated indecent,' she said. 'But even if we banned them, people could also watch them online. The whole thing is just pointless and contradictory.'

Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of Christian group the Society of Truth and Light, was also appointed an adjudicator in recent years.

Choi, known for a conservative stance on obscenity, homosexuality and gambling, said his values represented a large population of teachers and parents who wanted to protect teenagers. 'But even so, an adjudicator has to consider the general moral standards of the whole society,' he said. 'Many articles would be banned if I were to judge by my religious views. But adults should have the right to decide what to watch.'

All three adjudicators agreed that the tribunal had reason to exist.

'I think it is a relatively fair system that could achieve its goal to protect teenagers,' Choi said, while King added: 'At least the government could claim it has done something about obscenity.'

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