20 October 1997
Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Information Policy
Depiction of Violence in Newspapers and Print Publications
This paper briefs Members on the enforcement of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) relating to the depiction of violence in newspapers and other print publications such as magazines and comic books.
2.The COIAO regulates the publication and display of indecent and obscene articles. Under the COIAO, the terms "obscenity" and "indecency" include material that is violent, depraved or repulsive. The Police, the Customs and Excise Department, and the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) are the three designated enforcement agencies under the COIAO.
3.Hong Kong has a free press and enjoys freedom of expression and publication. There is no pre-censorship of the print media. However, publishers must observe the relevant provisions of the COIAO in the publication of materials as explained below.
4.Under the COIAO, published articles are classified into one of the following three classes -
- Class I :the article is neither obscene nor indecent. Such publication can be sold or distributed to any persons without any conditions.
- Class II :the article is indecent. Class II publication can only be sold or distributed to persons aged 18 or above and with conditions. These statutory conditions are : the article must be sealed in wrappers (opague wrappers if the covers are indecent); statutory warning must be printed on 20% of the front and back covers of the article; details of publishers must also be printed on the cover.
- Class III : the article is obscene. Such article is prohibited from publication.
5.While the COIAO provides for a classification system, and establishes the OAT as the authority for this propose, submission of articles for classification is entirely voluntary. The OAT is required to follow the guidelines provided in the COIAO in reaching its decision. For Members' reference, the guidelines are at Annex.
Enforcement of the COIAO relating to publications depicting violence
6.TELA is responsible for monitoring the contents of publications on sale in the market and is also responsibile for taking enforcement action against publishers for contravening certain provisions of the COIAO. Articles suspected of breaching the provisions of the COIAO are referred to the OAT for classification and TELA will take appropriate enforcement action, such as the issue of summonses. Cases involving further investigation are referred to the Police.
7.In 1996, TELA referred 82 newspaper articles, 21 magazine articles and 118 comic books to the OAT for classification. About 1/3 of these articles contained materials of a violent or repulsive nature. In the same year, we issued 46 summonses against newspaper/magazine/comic publishers for breaches of the COIAO. These had resulted in 44 successful prosecutions with fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.
8.Other than regular monitoring of the publications on sale in the market, TELA also operates a 24-hour telephone complaint hotlines (2676 7676). It looks into any complaints received and where appropriate, refers the articles in question to the OAT for classification and takes appropriate follow-up action.
9.To uphold public morality, particularly to protect young people from the harmful effect of indecent materials, TELA keeps a vigilant watch over publications on sale in the market. Whenever necessary, it refers dubious articles to the OAT for classifications and to take appropriate enforcement action.
Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority