Provisional Legislative Council
PLC Paper No. CB(2)534
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/IP

Provisional Legislative Council Panel on Information Policy

Minutes of Meeting held on Tuesday, 14 October 1997 at 3:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

    Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin
    Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
    Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam

Members Absent :

    Hon WONG Siu-yee
    Hon MA Fung-kwok
    Hon TSANG Yok-sing
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Public Officers Attending:

Mr David H T LAN
Secretary for Home Affairs

Mrs Stella HUNG
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mrs Justina LAM
Assistant Secretary General 2

Mr Colin CHUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Briefing by Secretary for Home Affairs on the Chief Executive's Policy Address

At the Chairman's invitation, the Secretary for Home Affairs (SHA) briefed members on the Bureau's policy programme (PLC Paper No. CB(2)412) in the area of information policy relating to the protection and enhancement of press freedom and better access to government information. The salient points of discussion are set out in the ensuing paragraphs.

Access to government information

2.. A member said that his recent request over the phone for the name and telephone number of the subject officer responsible for a particular matter had been turned down by staff of a department, on the ground that the request was in breach of data protection principles. The required information was also not available in the Government Telephone Directory as the latest issue in 1996 was already outdated. Since the Code on Access to Information aimed at enhancing public access to government information, the member saw no reason why his request was not entertained. SHA affirmed that all Government departments had adopted the Code since 1996, and members of the public should not be denied access to government information.

3.. As regards publicity on the implementation of the Code, SHA advised that there were Announcements of Public Interest (APIs) on the subject, and he would consider stepping up publicity in this respect. On facilitating public access to government information with the use of new technology, SHA noted a member's suggestion of installing user-friendly information kiosks at public places such as Mass Transit Railway stations. Admin

4.. Regarding the type(s) of government information which should not be disclosed to the public, SHA said that the Code on Access to Information provided guidelines on refusal of requests for information.

Press freedom

5.. On protection and enhancement of press freedom, SHA said that the Government was totally committed to maintaining an environment in which the press enjoyed freedoms of speech and of publication as stipulated in the Basic Law. It was important that these freedoms should remain unchanged and be seen unchanged after the handover.

6.. On the question of self-censorship by the press before and after the handover, SHA pointed out that the Government had not conducted any studies in this respect. The Government supported the principle of editorial independence and did not influence the press on its work. The Government hoped that the press would not do anything to restrain itself from enjoying the freedoms prescribed in the Basic Law.

Young people's access to materials which were pornographic or contained excessive depiction of violence

7.. A member was concerned about young people's access to materials which were pornographic or contained excessive depiction of violence. The Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (DSHA) responded that the Government had to strike a balance between protecting public morals and 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. While it was Government policy not to pre-censor publications, the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance was in place to regulate such materials. Members of the public were encouraged to lodge complaints against these materials to the Obscene Articles Tribunal. In so doing, the public could contribute to the protection of public morals and young people. The member suggested and DSHA agreed to consider stepping up publicity on the availability of the complaint channel. Admin

Electronic voting

8.. Some members raised the question of conducting the first Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Legislative Council election by electronic means. SHA responded that the Government had to consider the technical aspects and cost-effectiveness of electronic voting, in view of the large capital investment and infrequent elections. In this connection, the Chairman pointed out that territories like Taiwan, Korea and Brazil had already adopted electronic voting. Based on the experience of overseas countries, the capital costs for electronic voting were less than US$10 million. SHA said that he would notify the relevant bureau/department to take note of this information in evaluating the feasibility of introducing the electronic voting system.

Information technology (IT) development

IT Co-ordination

9.. Referring to paragraph 45 of the Policy Address, the Chairman asked which Bureau Secretary would lead and co-ordinate the work of all government organisations involved in IT and telecommunications, and whether the designated Secretary would undertake such duties full time. SHA pointed out that reading paragraph 45 of the Policy Address, it appeared that there would be a re-distribution of responsibilities of the four bureaux currently involved in the policy areas of information technology, broadcasting and telecommunications. These were the Finance Bureau, Economic Services Bureau, Trade and Industry Bureau and Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau. One of these four Bureau Secretaries would be assigned the IT portfolio. The Chief Secretary for Administration's Office (CS's Office) would be co-ordinating a review of the institutional framework within the Government with a view to re-adjusting the portfolios of existing Bureaux rather than setting up an additional Bureau for IT in Government. Responding to members' concern that the Bureau Secretary assigned with the responsibility to co-ordinate IT development might not have sufficient authority and time to deal with this important area of work, SHA said that the CS's Office would definitely review the existing spheres of responsibilities of the concerned bureaux secretaries before coming to a view on the re-structuring. The Government hoped to provide details in the near future.

Measures to achieve the objectives in paragraph 44 of the Policy Address

    . The Chairman was concerned about the measures to be taken to achieve the objectives set out in paragraph 44 of the Policy Address, in particular the fourth objective of creating a cultural environment that stimulated creativity and welcomed advances in the use of this technology. She considered it important to have a free and pluralistic cultural environment which could stimulate demand for the use of IT. In this respect, the Government should take the lead in the use of IT, which would stimulate demands in other sectors of the community. In response, SHA said that the scope of the question fell outside the range of responsibilities of the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB). As far as IT policy was concerned, HAB was responsible for enhancing public access to government information by assisting all government bureaux and departments to set up their home pages on the Internet by the end of 1997, and to upgrade the quality and user-friendliness of these home pages. It would be incumbent on the Bureau Secretary designated for co-ordinating overall IT development to put forward concrete proposals for achieving the objectives in the Policy Address.

    Software development and applications in the community

    . The Chairman and some members considered that the Government should encourage software development and IT applications in the community. In this respect, members hoped to receive further information from the Administration as soon as possible.

II. Any other business

Date of next meeting

10.. In view of members' concern about the strategies and measures to be adopted by the Government in the future IT development as described in paragraphs 44-48 of the Chief Executive's Policy Address, members considered it necessary to have another briefing by the relevant Bureaux Secretaries on the subject, including the targets and timetable for achieving the policy objectives. As members might like to address the issue at the Motion of Thanks debate to be held on 22 and 23 October 1997, members agreed to re-schedule the regular meeting from 24 October to 20 October 1997, so that the Administration could give more information to the Panel in relation to "information technology development" ahead of the debate.

11.. The meeting ended at 4:35 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
18 November 1997

Last Updated on 5 December 1997