on 3 October 1997
PROVISIONAL LEGCO PANEL ON BROADCASTING, CULTURE AND SPORT
Regulation of Obscene and Indecent
Material Transmitted Through the Internet
This paper briefs Members on the progress made since the promulgation of the policy decision in January 1997 on the regulation of obscene and indecent material transmitted through the Internet.
2.In January this year, Government announced its policy decision regarding the regulation of obscene and indecent material transmitted through the Internet. In brief, Government decided not to introduce legislative amendments to the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) specifically to deal with the Internet for the time being and that the Internet Service Providers industry should be encouraged to exercise self-regulation through the development of a Code of Practice. A review would be conducted one year after the introduction of the industry-developed Code of Practice to assess its effectiveness and decide whether the law need to be amended for enforcement proposes. The decision was made in the light of legal advice that the COIAO can already apply to the control of obscene and indecent electronic publications although its effectiveness has yet to be fully tested. That apart, due consideration has to be given to the need to strike a right balance between protecting public morals and our young people on the one hand and preserving the free flow of information and safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information on the other. Another consideration is the Government wish to promote rather than stifle the development of the Internet industry which is still at an early stage of development in Hong Kong. The last but not the least consideration is in respect of the practicality and effectiveness of regulating and monitoring the vast volume of information transmitted on the Internet. For more details, Members are invited to read the policy paper on the subject, now attached at Annex.
3.Considerable progress has been made since the promulgation of Government's policy decision. These are outlined in paragraphs 4 to 8 below.
4.The Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA) has adopted a Code of Practice in April this year. The Code provides broad guidelines on the conduct of members of the HKISPA in the provision of Internet service. As for content control, both the HKISPA and its member Internet Services Providers (ISPs) are supportive of the Government policy objective to protect youngsters from accessing indecent material on the Internet. They are also responsive to the Government's call for an industry-driven practice statement to exercise self-regulation. A set of specific guidelines dealing with the transmission of obscene and indecent material will be issued in October 1997. In addition, we have encouraged ISPs to provide subscribers with free filtering software, and offer special packages of service for teenagers by filtering objectionable Web sites using proxy servers.
5.To promote and encourage the use of filtering tools, a list of commonly used filtering tools for home computer users is now on the home pages of the HKISPA, the Education Department, and the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority. We have also solicited the support of all ISPs to put the list on their home pages.
6.As regards publicity, new television and radio Announcements of Public Interest have been launched since 1 September to promote the proper use of the Internet and encourage parental guidance. Through the assistance of ISPs, new publicity leaflets have been distributed to users of the Internet since September.
7.In conjunction with the Education Department's Committee on Home-School Cooperation and Working Group to Monitor Objectionable Media Information, we are exploring the best means to arouse the awareness of parents and in equipping them with the necessary skills to provide guidance on the proper use of the Internet.
8.Education Department has produced an information leaflet and issued a set of guidelines to assist schools and guide teachers on how to use Internet resources effectively for learning and teaching purposes. A series of in-service teacher training programmes focusing on Internet have been organized since May 1996 to familiarize teachers with the use of Internet. The computer syllabus for secondary schools is being reviewed, and Internet (including its proper use) will be included in the syllabus.
RECENT COURT CASES
9.Since January 1997, the adequacy of COIAO as a piece of legislation for regulating obscene materials on the Internet has been tested on two occasions. In relation to a court case processed in June 97, the defendant was successfully prosecuted for publishing an obscene article under section 21(1)(a) of the COIAO. In that case the magistrate affirmed that the definition of 'article' and 'publish' under the COIAO is sufficiently wide to cover the computer files or electronic data uploaded to the Internet. In the second case, prosecution against three defendants regarding a joint charge of conspiracy to publish an obscene article on the Internet and a separate count of possessing obscene articles for the purpose of publication was unsuccessful. The case involved the publication of obscene materials which originate from overseas and over which Hong Kong has no jurisdiction.
10.While accepting that the transmission of obscene and indecent electronic publications has to be controlled and strictly enforced for the sake of our young people, we believe that the perceived problem of such transmission has to be viewed in perspective. By and large, the amount of objectionable material is of relatively small proportion. The bulk of the transmissions are informational and wholesome.
11.We propose to keep in view the development of the Internet and in particular the effectiveness of the Code of Practice adopted for this purpose. Members will be consulted on any new policy proposals.
Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau