Provisional Legislative Council
PLC Paper No. CB(2)670
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/IP

Provisional Legislative Council Panel on Information Policy

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 20 October 1997 at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
    Hon WONG Siu-yee
    Hon MA Fung-kwok
    Hon TSANG Yok-sing
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Members Absent :

    Hon David CHU Yu-lin
    Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
    Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam

Members Attending :

    Hon NG Leung-sing
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Public Officers Attending:

Item II
Acting Secretary for Economic Services

Telecommunications Special Adviser

Mr Geoffrey F WOODHEAD
Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services

Mr Anthony S K WONG
Director-General of Telecommunications

Mr Patrick CHIM
Principal Assistant Secretary for the Treasury

Mr John DEAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Ms Mimi LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary (Broadcasting)

Mr Dennis PANG Chi-tat
Acting Assistant Director
Information Technology Services Department

Item III

Mr John WAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Assistant Commissioner
Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Miss Eva LIU
Head, Research & Library Services Division

Mr Colin CHUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Matters arising

Measuring press freedom
[Paper No. CB(2)338(02)]

The Chairman recapitulated that, at the meeting on 26 September 1997, members had requested the Head, Research and Library Services Division (H/RL) to provide information as to whether overseas governments had conducted studies measuring press freedom. At the invitation of the Chairman, H/RL reported that she had written to the governments of five Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines) to obtain the requested information, and replies were awaited. According to her experience, these governments would take about six to twelve weeks to respond. She would also try other means to collect the information.

2.. With regard to members?suggestion of conducting a study of press freedom after the transfer of sovereignty, H/RL said that, according to academic researchers interviewed, it might not be useful to conduct such studies in the early months after the handover. In this connection, a member considered it inappropriate for the Government or the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) to conduct studies on press freedom. Instead, he would suggest independent researchers to continue with such studies, perhaps with funds provided by the PLC. In this respect, another member doubted the propriety for PLC to finance press freedom studies as these had no direct relevance to the work of PLC. After discussion, the Chairman advised that the Panel could consider at a future meeting how best to follow up on the issue when H/RL had obtained further information on overseas studies.

II. Information technology development
[Paper No. CB(2)451(01)]

3.. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Secretary for Economic Services (SES) and the Telecommunications Special Adviser (TSA) presented the paper on the conceptual framework for future information technology (IT) development as depicted in the Chief Executive's 1997 Policy Address. The following paragraphs summarised the discussion between members and the Administration.

Information technology co-ordination

4.. On the question of whether there would be a new Bureau to deal with IT-related responsibilities, SES said that the Chief Secretary for Administration's Office (CS's Office) was co-ordinating a review of the institutional framework within the Government, with a view to re-adjusting portfolios of existing Bureaux to undertake such duties. It was most unlikely that an additional Bureau would be set up for this purpose.

5.. Members expressed doubts that the proposed re-distribution of work among the six Bureaux Secretaries concerned could adequately address the problem. Members considered that as the Bureau Secretary assigned with the IT portfolio would still be required to attend to other duties, he/she might not have sufficient time and resources to deal with this important area of work. SES responded that he expected that the IT portfolio would become the major responsibility of the designated Bureau Secretary after re-structuring. As the CS's Office was still considering the matter, there was no decision yet as to which Bureau Secretary should take up the IT portfolio. SES undertook to relay members?views to CS's Office for consideration. Admin

High level committee to steer IT development

6.. The Chairman and some members asked whether the Government would follow the example of overseas countries in setting up a high-power committee to direct and coordinate overall IT development in Hong Kong. They suggested the committee to be chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) or the Financial Secretary (FS), with participation of the IT industry, academia and the private sector. While the Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee (IIAC) and working groups had been set up to advise on technical aspects such as the regulatory framework for the broadband networks and services, members considered that only a high-power committee could advise on the overall strategy for IT development including software applications in the community. SES responded that the Bureau Secretary to be assigned the IT portfolio would examine the strategy and advisory framework for IT development.

Investment in IT development

7.. On the question of Government investment in IT development, TSA said that about $1.5 billion had been earmarked each year to enhance IT development in Government departments and in schools. He added that it was Government policy to encourage participation of the private sector in infrastructural and software development, as in the case of some overseas countries. In this respect, the private sector had already made substantial investments in the construction of communication networks and related development work.

8.. Referring to paragraph 44 of the Chief Executive's Policy Address, the Chairman asked about the estimated resources required to achieve the four objectives to make Hong Kong a leader in the information age. TSA replied that the Government had yet to work out the funding requirements pending formulation of the IT development strategies.

Use of IT in the delivery of Government services

9.. The Chairman was concerned that there should be effective coordination between Government departments and the community when promoting the use of new technology in the delivery of Government services. Agreeing with the Chairman, SES said that, before launching new services employing new technology, Government departments and bureaux would ensure that target users were competent to use the new facilities.

10.. In encouraging the use of IT for improving services to the public, the Principal Assistant Secretary for the Treasury said that the Finance Bureau would ensure that the IT needs of departments were met in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. In this respect, the Government had completed the first phase of Office Automation Programme which would be extended to the whole of Government by year 2000. A working group chaired by the Secretary for the Treasury was also examining ways to strengthen the use of Internet technology for improving communication within Government and efficiency in the delivery of services to the public.

11.. On enhancing public access to Government information by using Internet, SES said that all departments would have set up their home pages by the end of this year.

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

12.. The Chairman was concerned about the ways and means to achieve the policy objective of creating a cultural environment that stimulated creativity and welcomed advances in the use of IT. TSA responded that the Government had yet to draw up concrete plans in this respect. He said that from overseas experience, IT could be used in many areas, e.g. enhancement of teaching and learning, provision of patient care outside hospitals, processing of licences and permits, tender applications and dissemination of Government information. These could form the basis for creativity in IT applications.

IT in education

13.. On the implementation timetable for stepping up the use of IT in education as pledged in the Policy Address, Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower said that the Government would conduct a public consultation exercise on the five-year strategy for IT in education in early 1998, and would set out the targets for implementation.

IT in broadcasting

14.. In response to a member, Principal Assistant Secretary (Broadcasting) said that digital radio broadcasting could improve the quality of traditional AM and FM broadcasts and increase channel capacity. RTHK would start a technical trial of digital radio broadcasting in 1998, and the Government would consider the issues relating to digital radio broadcasting. The 1998 Review on Television Environment would take into account, among other things, the impact of the convergence of television, computer and telecommunications, the latest developments in television broadcasting such as the launch of commercial scale video-on-demand programme services, and technological development in the industry.

International telecommunications

15.. In response to a member, TSA said that the Government hoped to conclude discussion with the Hong Kong Telecom to improve the existing monopoly arrangement on international telecommunications by the end of 1997.

16.. At the request of a member, TSA undertook to provide the Panel with copies of research reports on Internet developments in Australia and Canada. Admin

III. Newspaper reports on triad-related activities
[Paper No. CB(2)415(02)]

17.. At the request of the Chairman, Assistant Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (AC for TEL) briefed members on the paper provided by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA).

18.. A member expressed concern that the excessive depiction of violence in newspaper reports on gang fights in Macau during July and August 1997 would have undesirable impact on young people. He asked whether the Government regulated publications on triad-related activities. In response, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs said that the Government supported freedom of expression and publication, and did not require pre-censorship of newspapers and publications. Nevertheless, the Government exercised vigilance of publications containing violence or obscene articles which were regulated by the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO). Enforcement of the Ordinance was carried out by the Police, Customs and Excise Department, and TELA. In response to the member, AC for TEL elaborated on the definition of 'obscene' and 'indecent' articles under COIAO. He said that the terms "obscenity" and "indecency" under COIAO included materials that were violent, depraved or repulsive. In determining whether an article contained indecent or obscene material, the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) was required to follow guidelines provided in the COIAO. In this respect, OAT would have regard to the standards of morality, decency and propriety accepted by reasonable members of the community, and the dominant effect of the article or of the matter reported as a whole. Articles on triad-related activities would be regulated if they breached the provisions of the COIAO, and the Police would be consulted where necessary.

19.. A member asked whether TELA would only act on complaints rather than adopting a pro-active approach in regulating obscene and indecent publications. AC for TEL pointed out that TELA regularly monitored the contents of publications on the market, with regard to the prevailing classification standards of OAT. Where articles were suspected of breaching the provisions of COIAO, these would be referred to OAT for classification. TELA would take enforcement action if there was evidence of a breach of COIAO provisions. In response to the member, AC for TEL confirmed that TELA had not made any referral to OAT or received any complaint in July and August 1997 regarding newspaper reports on triad related articles. His department also operated a telephone hotline to receive complaints from the public and would take appropriate follow up action on the complaints received. Admin

20.. In response to another member, AC for TEL clarified that the Registration of Local Newspaper Ordinance was only to register the basic data of owners, publishers and editors of newspapers and publications. Such records were intended as evidence for use in civil or criminal proceedings including prosecutions under COIAO.

IV. Date of next meeting

21.. Members agreed to invite deputations to present their views on future information technology development as set out in the Chief Executive's 1997 Policy Address at the next meeting to be held on 28 November 1997.

(Post-meeting note : A total of 36 organisations had been invited to make written submissions to the Panel. 22 of them had sent in submissions. In view of the enthusiastic response of the industry and concerned parties, members agreed to hold an additional meeting on 2 December 1997 to meet the deputations.)

22.. The meeting ended at 10:30 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
26 November 1997

Last Updated on 5 December 1997