Every day, every single newspaper and magazine published in Hong Kong is delivered to an office high above the bustling streets of Wan Chai. Freshly-published books, CDs and DVDs are added to the pile and distributed among a platoon of 45 officers who scour the publications for signs of indecent or obscene material. The officers may go on to scrutinise newsletters and websites online, consider letters of complaint submitted by the public or fan out to inspect newsstands and shops on the streets below. It is a job the enforcement officers of the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (Tela) have been doing for years from their headquarters on the 39th floor of Revenue Tower. But recent, high-profile cases involving movie actress Carina Lau Ka-ling and Twins star Gillian Chung Yan-tung have thrown a new, more critical, spotlight on to the work of the censors and the Obscene Articles Tribunal they refer material to. The cases brought calls for tighter restrictions and heavier penalties for magazines such as Easy Finder, which published the 'peep pictures' of Ms Chung following 14 previous indecency convictions and went on to apply for a judicial review against the tribunal's ruling that the pictures were indecent. Meanwhile, Tela has been deliberating about whether to take a landmark case to the Court of Appeal to seek a stiffer sentence and its commissioner Lorna Wong Lung-shi has pledged to request more full hearings, in which the tribunal has to meet in public and provide a rationale for its rulings, if there is any doubt about an interim decision. Then, several weeks ago, the authority received complaints about a Chinese University students' journal involving a survey on students' sexual fantasies that included questions on bestiality and incest. It referred the case to the Obscene Articles Tribunal - and a fresh storm of controversy broke. The 11 editors of the Student Press denounced the decision, demanded a review of the obscenity laws, held street forums on press freedom and protested outside the Eastern Court - winning support for their case from academics, human rights agencies, women's groups and even religious bodies. On Tuesday, the tribunal's interim ruling - that two issues of the Student Press were indecent at Grade II, which means they can only be distributed wrapped in plastic and with a warning that they must not be read by anyone under 18 - was officially released. By Thursday, 184 complaints had been lodged with Tela against the Student Press but so had more than 2,000 complaints against the Bible after a website noted that the scriptures made references to incest, rape, cannibalism and violence. Tela swiftly rejected the Bible complaints on the grounds that it was part of human civilisation and not offensive to reasonable members of the community. The furore has prompted intense questioning about the obscenity ordinance and procedures - even among the tribunal's own adjudicators. Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho , who is also vice-president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said: 'I think the government should try not to put their hands into too many things. Especially the recent issue of the student newspaper. It is a paper for students of the university and there should be more leeway and freedom. I think the Tela should sometimes be more selective in what they send to the tribunal. And I think the tribunal may not be reflecting the so-called norms of Hong Kong society today. In my opinion, the judgments being passed are too conservative.' Last year, the authority referred a total of 457 articles to the tribunal, which graded 241 - more than half - as Class III, or obscene, 144 as Class II or indecent, and 72 as Class I, which means they met acceptable standards. Over recent years it has also kicked back four cases graded as Class I by the tribunal for full hearings and challenged two court fines - one of HK$5,000 and one of HK$7,500. Magistrates doubled both fines on review. Angela Luk Yee-wah, Tela's assistant commissioner (entertainment), said: 'Over recent years, we have been more proactive in seeking reviews of OAT decisions in cases where we don't think the interim classification was appropriate. We have sought review of the penalties as well because we thought the penalties were too low and did not have sufficient deterrent effect. In the past two years, there have been more magazines - mainly entertainment magazines - that members of the public think have indecent covers or content. A number of them have included lots of indecent photos and articles. People can see them everywhere - in the convenience stores and the newsstands. They are the main cause of concern.' The tribunal is formed from a panel of 321 adjudicators, who are appointed from all walks of life and sectors of society and do not receive legal training. When a case is referred, it is first heard behind closed doors by two adjudicators picked at random from the panel, who make an interim ruling. If the defendant applies within five days, they will be given a full public hearing before four adjudicators and a magistrate, who will hand down a rationale with the judgment. Adjudicators follow five principles laid out in the Obscene Articles Ordinance when classifying material but do not have explicit guidelines on what is obscene, such as which parts of the body may be shown in a photograph. Following common law principles, they refer to previous judgments in making their decisions. If the tribunal finds an article is obscene, Tela will prosecute the publisher in the courts, where, if convicted, the penalty will be set by a magistrate. Although the maximum penalty for repeated publication of indecent material is an HK$800,000 fine and a one-year jail sentence, the highest fine that has been imposed to date is HK$50,000. Calls for an overhaul of the system are now coming from both liberalisers and conservatives. Yolanda Ng Yuen-ting, spokeswoman for the Women's Rights Association, said: 'Of course, the highest penalty is high enough. But every time when the case is put to the courts, the penalty is based on the previous case. The law on obscenity is more than 20 years old and it is time to review it and see if it really reflects the needs and values of society today. 'The media are pushing Hong Kong society in the wrong direction to have a more casual attitude to sex. So young people will think easy sexual relationships are part of normal life and that is what I am worried about.' Legislator Albert Cheng King-hon, chairman of Legco's panel on information technology and broadcasting, said the government needed to think carefully before applying for reviews of tribunal decisions. 'Of course, the government has the right to appeal,' he said. 'But by appealing against their decisions, you are casting a no-confidence vote on the tribunal system. I think the appeals system should safeguard the defendant rather than the government.' Media ethics expert Professor Kenneth Leung Wai-yin, of Chinese University's journalism department, said there had been concerns following last year's Gillian Chung hearings that the tribunal was not independent enough and might be responding to public pressure. 'Miss Chung came out to complain, crying and so forth, then even the chief executive came out and said something and then the groups came in, the women's groups and the religious groups,' he said. 'It seemed to be that everyone was having some kind of public hearing on this particular magazine. 'Whether or not the tribunal could rule independently under those circumstances becomes a question. It seems that the subject material may not be at the level of indecency if you look at the pictures in question and compare them with those in previous hearings.' Meanwhile, the student editors are comparing their own case to some of the more bizarre judgments that litter the tribunal's history, such as the decisions in 1995 to ban an advert depicting Michelangelo's David because of nudity concerns and to require New Man, a statue by world-renowned sculptor Elizabeth Frink, to wear a cardboard fig-leaf. Both the notorious David ruling - ridiculed by a judge as making Hong Kong 'the laughing stock of the world' - and the order imposing a modesty cover on the statue, were subsequently overturned on appeal. A further eccentric decision came in the wake of the two reversals the following year. A slide in a talk at the Museum of Art showing Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, a landmark work of the Impressionist movement which today epitomises the acceptable mainstream of visual art, was referred to the tribunal and branded 'unsuitable for children'. First-year law student Melody Chan, one of the 11 Student Press editors, said: 'I have to say that such rulings are really silly - and I am also referring to our own ruling. They didn't give any details about what was wrong with the two pages. I think they should make the rulings on the magazine more specific so that we know what is wrong. And they didn't really look at the whole publication. We do not agree that this is a proper way to classify a publication.' Miss Chan added that the fact that some members of the tribunal had spoken to the media before the interim finding was formally announced had cast doubt on the independence of the ruling. Tela's answer is simple - it is already conducting a review of the ordinance. 'We began the review a few months ago,' said Ms Luk. 'People have been asking for higher penalties so that is an area that we are looking into. We will be conducting a consultation exercise and we hope to release it very soon.' With the Easy Finder case due to come back to court next month and the students seeking a review of their case, they will certainly have plenty to talk about. Factors the tribunal must take into account 1 Community standards of morality, decency and propriety 2 The dominant overall effect of the article 3 The likely target audience including age group 4 The location in which the material is publicly displayed and the people and age groups likely to see it 5 Whether it has an honest purpose or 'seeks to disguise unacceptable material'