LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 645/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/IP

LegCo Panel on Information Policy

Minutes of the Meeting
held on Friday, 1 November 1996 at 10:45 a.m.
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing (Chairman)
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Member Absent :

    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Jeremy Croft
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Item II
Mr Robin Gill
Deputy Director of Information Services
Mr YUK Wai-fung
Principal Management Services Officer
Efficiency Unit

Attendance by Invitation :

Item II

Hong Kong Development and Strategic Research Centre
Mr Eric CHOW
Mr Ringo LAM
Mr Patrick MOK
> Member

Internet Community
Mr Anthony AU
Managing Director

ABC Data & Telecom Ltd
Mr Charles MOK
General Manager
HK Net Co Ltd

Items III, IV
Foreign Correspodents’ Club
Mr John Giannini
Mr Francis Moriarty
Convenor of Press Freedom Subcommittee

Hong Kong Chinese Press Association
Mr Winston CHOW
Mr HUE Pue-ying

Hong Kong Federation of Journalists
Mr CHAN Kin-ming

Hong Kong Journalists Association
Mr Cliff Bale
Executive Committee Member
Mr LIU Kin-ming
Executive Committee Member

Hong Kong News Executives’ Association
Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen

The Society of Hong Kong Publishers Ltd
Mr Jack Maisano
Chairman of Government Relations Subcommittee

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Anna LO
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Colin CHUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Date and items for discussion for next meeting

(LegCO Paper No.CB(2) 302/96-97(01))

Members agreed that the next meeting to be held on Friday, 6 December 1996 at 10:45 a.m. would concentrate on discussion of "Development of information super-highway and Internet in Hong Kong". All other LegCo Members, representatives of the computer and information service industry, television stations, universities, municipal councils and interested parties would be invited to the meeting. The Administration would be requested to coordinate attendance of relevant branches/departments to this meeting with a view to responding at a future meeting.

(Post-meeting note: Due to the overwhelming response from deputations, the Panel’s discussion on the subject would be split into two parts, the first part on 6 December 1996 and the second part on 3 January 1997.)

II. Access to government information

(a) Code on Access to Information

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(02))

2. Members noted the Administration’s progress report on the implementation of the Code on Access to Information within the government.

(b) The Government’s use of Internet

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(03), (04) and (13))

Dissemination of government information through the Internet

3. On the question of the Administration’s approach in the dissemination of government information through the Internet , Mr Jeremy Croft stated that the Administration uploaded government information which it considered would be useful to the Internet users. The Internet was only one of the means to disseminate general government information which could also be obtained through other forms of mass media bearing in mind that the general public might not have access to the Internet. The Administration would also develop applications where it could communicate with, disseminate government information and deliver government services to specialist user groups of the Internet.

4. Mr Eric CHOW went over the Hong Kong Development and Strategic Research Centre’s submission at LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(13) (tabled at the meeting) and requested the Government and the Legislative Council to study the government role in promoting the development of an information society, particularly regarding developing National Information Infrastructure. The Chairman said that the issue would be further discussed at the next meeting.

Delivery of Government services over the Internet

Radio Television Hong Kong’s (RTHK) radio programmes broadcast through the Internet

5. The Chairman enquired why RTHK’s Radio 1 hourly news update and news programmes which were put on RTHK’s Internet website were mysteriouly blanked out on 30-31 October 1996. She also expressed concern over the apparent manipulation of the audio level of "¼¾¤ß¦Û°Ý" of Newsrama broadcast on 31 October 1996 when Mr LU Siqing , Chairman of the Human Rights and Democracy in China Information Centre, was interviewed. Mr YUK Wai-fung responded that the Administration would investigate the incidents.

(Post-meeting note: The exchange of letters between the Chairman and Director of Broadcasting dated 11 and 27 November 1996 on the Radio television Hong Kong Internet saga was circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2)625/96-97.)

Uploading of application forms onto Internet

6. In reply to the Chairman’s enquiry, Mr YUK pointed out that the Administration planned to put 300 sets of application forms on the Internet in September 1997. Members of the public could then download these forms for applications for government services.

Education on Internet in schools

Computer training in schools

7. Mr Ringo LAM considered that education on Internet in Hong Kong schools was primitive and not in line with the development of information technology. Mr Patrick MOK opined that the Administration should, instead of relying on commercial sponsorship for free Internet accounts, allocate more resources to provide Internet access in schools. He also took the view that computer training for children should start from the kindergarten. Mr Croft undertook to relay the views expressed to the Education Department for consideration.

Internet access outside schools

8. Mrs Elizabeth WONG agreed with Mr Ringo LAM that Internet access outside schools should be provided so that students who did not have such facilities at home would not be deprived of access to information via Internet. Mr Croft responded that the Municipal Councils provided Internet access in public libraries. The Administration would also consider Mr Lawrence YUM’s suggestion of providing Internet access in district offices.

III. Difficulties faced by local journalists working in China

9. Members noted that the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong had declined to attend the meeting to discuss agenda items III and IV.

The Administration’s position

10. Mr Croft pointed out that the British and Hong Kong Governments advised Hong Kong citizens working in other countries/territories to abide by the laws of these countries/territories. He set out the assistance offered by the British Consulates/Embassies in cases where Hong Kong citizens faced difficulties outside Hong Kong. The two Governments had conveyed to the Chinese authorities the journalists’ request for the lifting of all reporting restrictions on Hong Kong journalists on assignment in China.

Views of Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)

11. Mr LIU Kin-ming stated that the HKJA supported the lifting of all reporting restrictions for Hong Kong reporters on assignments in China. The HKJA requested the management of media organisations to provide their reporters with more supporting services and assistance which were insufficient at present. Referring to item 8 of its submission entitled ‘An Agenda for Action on Freedom of Expression" (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(11)), he pointed out that the HKJA had urged the future Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to seek the abolition of the reporting restrictions and help those journalists who encountered problems. In this connection, the future Chief Executive was also requested to seek the early release of XI Yang.

Views of Hong Kong Federation of Journalists (HKFJ)

12. Mr CHAN Kin-ming stated that the HKFJ requested the Chinese authorities to review the reporting restrictions and considered that journalists should abide by the restrictions and the relevant Chinese laws. They must appreciate that the concepts of press freedom in China and Hong Kong were different. In practice, the restrictions were not strictly enforced by the Chinese authorities and journalists who observed the reporting restrictions were protected. Nevertheless, superiors of reporters should be more considerate of the difficulties faced by local reporters working in China.

Views of Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC)

13. Mr Francis Moriarty pointed out that the FCC had already made a submission on the difficulties faced by local journalists at the Panel meeting held on 12 July 1996. The FCC was in support of lifting all reporting restrictions on Hong Kong journalists working in China and did not support written guidelines for news reporting in China.

Views of Society of Hong Kong Publishers Ltd (SHKP)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(08))

14. Mr Jack Maisano took members’ through the submission of SHKP which supported the formulation of reporting guidelines for Hong Kong journalists working outside the territory. In response to the Chairman’s question whether local journalists working in China were deprived of the human rights upheld by the SHKP, he considered the detention of XI Yang unreasonable and unacceptable.

Views of Hong Kong News Executives’ Association (HKNEA)

15. Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen stated that local reporters on assignments in China should abide by the laws of China which had a different political system. He understood from the Chinese Premier, LI Peng, that the Chinese authorities would compile a booklet on laws relating to news reporting in China.

16. Mr YEUNG took the view that the Chinese authorities would not issue reporting guidelines for Hong Kong journalists working in China. He considered that such guidelines would restrict journalistic activities and bring about interpretation problems.

17. Mr YEUNG considered that employers and superiors of reporters working in China should try their best to assist those who faced difficulties in discharging their duties. The supporting services and assistance given would depend on individual cases.

18. Mr YEUNG opined that local reporters on assignments in China should always bear in mind the political climate in discharging their duties. Safety should be the most important factor in considering whether to report on a particular story. Mr LIU Kin-ming considered that political climate should not be taken into consideration in news reporting so long as the journalistic activities did not violate the Chinese laws. Mr CHAN Kin-ming opined that it would be dangerous for journalists to judge the political climate. He reiterated that there was protection to journalists abiding by the reporting restrictions which were not strictly enforced.

Views of Hong Kong Chinese Press Association (HKCPA)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(06))

19. Mr HUE Pue-ying went over HKCPA’s submission. He opined that the booklet on Chinese laws relating to news reporting in China could help local journalists working in China comply with the provisions of the relevant Chinese laws; and urged the Chinese authorities to relax the reporting restrictions.

20. On the question of communication between the Chinese and Hong Kong journalists, Mr HUE considered that the Administration should strengthen communication with the Chinese Government to assist local reporters working in China. Mr Croft stated that the British and Hong Kong Governments had conveyed to the Chinese authorities the journalists’ request. It was clearly important that Hong Kong journalists should be able to report on news in China. The two governments would continue to reflect the journalists’ concerns to the Chinese Government. Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen pointed out that the HKNEA had organised a seminar in China for Hong Kong reporters and news executives on laws and restrictions on news reporting in China. At the seminar views were exchanged with representatives of Chinese media organisations and relevant government departments dealing with news reporting. He considered that seminars of this nature would help Hong Kong reporters discharge their duties in China.

IV. Freedom of expression after 1997

The Administration’s position

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(09))

21. Mr Croft briefed members on the Administration’s position paper on freedom of expression and assembly in Hong Kong after the change of sovereignty and on the reported remarks of the Chinese Vice Premier and Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, in an interview with the Asian Wall Street Journal on 16 October 1996 on the issue.

22. In reply to Mr Bruce LIU, Mr Croft said that, in line with the rights of freedom of expression and assembly stated in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, activities commemorating the June 4 incident should continue to be permissible after the handover. On the question of criticisms of political leaders, he stated that positive or negative views should continue to be able to be freely expressed in the media after the handover. Any restrictions imposed on such views (for example, to protect the rights and reputations of others) should be in law and consistent with the Bill of Rights Ordinance and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

FCC’s views

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(05))

23. Mr Moriarty went over FCC’s submission and was concerned whether the accreditation rule for foreign reporters working in China would also apply to those working in Hong Kong after the change of sovereignty.

HKCPA’s views

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(06))

24. Mr HUE took members’ through HKCPA’s submission which, among other things, commented on the reported remarks made by Mr Qian on 16 October 1996. Irrespective of Mr Qian’s remarks, the quick response of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office to clarify the remarks and to reiterate the principle of "One Country Two Systems" was a positive gesture.

SHKP’s views

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(12))

25. Mr Maisano went over SHKP’s submission and believed that Mr Qian’s remarks would not become the laws of Hong Kong.

HKNEA’s views

26. Mr YEUNG agreed with Mr Maisano that Mr Qian’s remarks would not become Hong Kong laws. Nevertheless, he considered that Mr Qian’s remarks on freedom of press (i.e. the media could put forward criticism but not personal attacks on Chinese leaders, lies, or rumours which did not live up to the morality of journalists and were not compatible with personal moral ethics) were not inconsistent with Western principles of journalism. He hoped that the future Special Administrative Region government would not revert to the repealed laws affecting press freedom as proposed by the defunct Preliminary Working Group and would not enact stringent laws relating to Article 23 of the Basic Law.

HKFJ’s views

27. Mr CHAN Kin-ming believed that, notwithstanding the different perceptions of press freedom between China and Hong Kong, the local media would continue to enjoy press freedom which was protected under the Basic Law and the "one country two systems" concept.

28. On Mr Qian’s remarks that local activities to commemorate the June 4 incident would be prohibited after the handover, Mr CHAN commented that this reflected Chinese leaders’ dissatisfaction towards such activities. Whether such activities would be prohibited after the handover was a matter within Hong Kong’s autonomy. He considered it necessary for the future Special Administrative Region government to enact laws relating to offences listed in Article 23.

HKJA’s views

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 302/96-97(11))

29. Mr Cliff Bale stated that Mr Qian’s reported remarks and Mr Lu Ping’s comments on advocacy and news reporting showed that Chinese leaders had a different perception of press freedom. According to a survey conducted by the Better Hong Kong Foundation, even the business community was concerned about press freedom after the handover. The offences listed in Article 23 of the Basic Law and the reason for the imprisonment of Wang Dan led people to cast doubt on press freedom after the handover. He also pointed out that 87 % of respondents to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Policy Viewers expected the future Chief Executive to safeguard press freedom. In this connection, he briefed members on the HKJA’s submission entitled "An agenda for action on freedom of expression".

30. In response to Mr Bruce LIU’s enquiry on items 3 and 5 of HKJA’s submission entitled "Appendix: HKJA’s views on laws relating to press freedom" (in Chinese only), Mr Croft pointed out that the Official Secrets Bill and Crimes (Amendment) Bill included proposals relating to Article 23 on treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government and theft of state secrets. The Administration was not in a position to disclose details of the bills which were subject to JLG’s confidentiality principle. The Chairman stated that the House Committee of LegCo, on the recommendation of the Panel, had written to the Chief Secretary urging the Administration to proceed with the gazettal of the two bills if consensus could not be reached with the Chinese side on the two bills by January 1997, and to explain to the public the circumstances of the disagreement.

(Post-meeting note: The Administration explained to the public the circumstances of the disagreement on 26 November 1996 and gazetted the Crimes (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1996 on 29 November 1996. The Bill would receive first Reading on 4 December 1996.)

31. Regarding criminal liability under sections 5 and 6 of the Defamation Ordinance (item 10 of HKJA’s submission mentioned at para. 29 of these minutes), Mr Croft pointed out that section 6 was repealed in 1995. The Administration had conducted a review on section 5 and decided to retain this section which was consistent with the Bill of Rights Ordinance. Similar provisions existed in English and Canadian laws and had been used in Canada.

32. The meeting ended at 1:08 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
6 December 1996

Last Updated on 20 August 1998