Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1400/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of special meeting held on Wednesday, 25 November 1998 at 9:00 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members Absent:

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Member Attending:

Hon SIN Chung-kai

Public Officers Attending:

Mr John WAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Assistant Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Entertainment)

Assistant Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Broadcasting)

Mr Eric K LEE
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
Attendance by Invitation:
Hong Kong Journalists Association

Mr LIU Kin-ming

Mr Cliff BALE

Hong Kong News Executives' Association

Mr Raymond WONG

Mr PAO Wan-lung

Hong Kong Federation of Journalists

Mr CHIU Wai-piu

Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association

Mr SIN Wai-keung

The Society for Truth & Light Ltd

Ms Mary LEUNG LING Tien-wai
Vice Chairman

Mr KWAN Kai-man
Board Member

Mr Alben WONG
Staff member

Television Broadcasts Limited

Mr Stephen C W CHAN
Controller of Programme Division & External Affairs Division

Mr LEUNG Ka-wing
Controller of News and Public Affairs Division

Asia Television Limited

Mr CHAN Shu-hung, Desmond
Corporate Lawyer & Company Secretary

Mr CHAN Wing-hung, Jeffrey
Controller - Programme Acquisition

Mr WONG Yuk-man
Clerk in Attendance:
Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Staff in Attendance:
Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2
I. Opening remark

The Chairman welcomed representatives of the deputations and the Administration for attending the special meeting to discuss the professional ethics of journalists and improper reporting by the media. In response to Mr CHENG Kai-nam's enquiry, the Chairman clarified that as the discussion would be on media ethics and improper reporting by the media in general rather than specific incidents of reporting, representatives of individual magazines and newspapers had not been invited to discuss specific recent incidents of unethical reporting. She then invited the deputations to give their views and members to raise questions afterwards. The gist of discussion is summarised in paragraphs 2 - 23.

II. Meeting with deputations
[LC Paper Nos. CB(2)699/98-99 and CB(2)737/98-99]

Hong Kong Journalists Association

2. Referring to a questionnaire survey conducted by Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) among its members, representative of HKJA informed the Panel that 77% of the respondents considered that media ethics were worse or much worse than that 12 months ago. The respondents also believed that media ethics had deteriorated because of keen commercial competition. However, there was little support of setting up a press council and introduction of media ethics legislation. Many respondents considered that HKJA should take a higher profile in monitoring journalists' ethics standards without government or legislature interference. To enhance media accountability, there should be formal channels for the public to lodge complaints and publish their views on media ethics.

3. Chairman of HKJA said that there had been more discussion on media ethics in recent years, and HKJA pledged to take the lead in setting up a media monitoring forum and consult the public in mapping the way forward. The media monitoring forum would operate independently from HKJA and would basically be a forum enhancing greater awareness of media ethics, providing education, exerting pressure on unethical reporting and handling public complaints. He stressed that there should be no involvement of the Government and political personalities including Members of the Legislative Council. The media monitoring forum should consist of people outside the media industry such as teachers, social workers and concerned individuals. Chairman of HKJA said that while HKJA had a ethics committee which was a disciplinary mechanism to receive and adjudicate complaints on media ethics, a public monitoring mechanism would be necessary to strengthen media ethics. To avoid conflict of interest, no member of the mass media should participate in the forum.

Hong Kong News Executives' Association

4. Representative of the Hong Kong News Executives' Association (HKNEA) presented the Association's views on the recent behaviour of some media [LC Paper No. CB(2)737/98-99]. While HKNEA did not support legislation to restrict media behaviour, HKNEA held fast to its belief that any mass medium was a public trust and the proprietors and media workers must be aware of their social responsibility and abide by the ethics. HKNEA was of the view that information consumers should also take an active part in monitoring the media and exposing the latter's shortcomings.

5. Responding to Mr Andrew CHENG, representative of HKNEA said that they supported the idea of setting up a media monitoring forum as proposed by HKJA, or a media council comprising representatives of the media, on the understanding that the mechanism was the trade's initiative without Government involvement or participation of legislators. It was always HKNEA's position that public monitoring and transparency of the trade were effective tools to uphold media ethics.

Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association (HKPPA)

6. Representative of the Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association (HKPPA) informed members that according to a survey of HKPPA during January 1997 - May 1998, there had been 39 cases of press photographers being attacked or having their films snatched. He pointed out that the figure had doubled when compared to the past, indicating that the public trust in the press was declining. Referring to the recent case of CHAN Kin-hong, the representative said that several press organisations had organised a signature campaign to express dissatisfaction over the unethical means employed by some members of the press in soliciting news on the case. A total of 633 signatures had been collected and published in seven newspapers in form of a statement. Noting that the statement was issued in the names of HKJA, HKNEA, Hong Kong Federation of Journalists (HKFJ) and HKPPA, Ms Emily LAU asked why the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong was not represented. Chairman of HKJA explained that the signature campaign was initiated by news practitioners and therefore the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong was not included.

7. In response to Mr CHENG Kai-nam's enquiry, representative of HKPPA said that he personally was not aware of any press photographer receiving rewards from or preferential treatment by their bosses for taking nauseating photos. In fact, the reputation of the newspaper or press photographer would be adversely affected if they published vulgar or nauseating photographs. In this connection, representative of HKJA drew members' attention to the Ethics of News Photographs issued by HKJA [LC Paper No. CB(2)699/98-99] which set out the criteria for publishing photographs of a violent or vulgar nature. The most important consideration of journalists was whether it was really necessary or appropriate to publish such photos for legitimate reasons.

8. Representative of HKPPA agreed with other deputations that a non-governmental and non-statutory public monitoring mechanism should be set up to exert more influence on the media behaviour. As legislation was already in place to regulate certain aspects of media behaviour (e.g. Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, Defamation Ordinance and Copyright Ordinance), it would not be necessary to impose more legislative control over the media. The representative was of the view that the direction should be to remove, rather than increase, legislation that would hinder press freedom. He welcomed the Chief Executive's recent statement that the Government had no intention to set up a monitoring body on the mass media. However, the representative considered it important for the mass media to exercise self-regulation to maintain quality reporting. Interactive communication between the public and the mass media would definitely help the media abide by their code of ethics.

The Society for Truth & Light Ltd

9. Vice-Chairman of the Society for Truth & Light (the Society) briefed members on the Society's views and actions on the recent incidents of unethical reporting by the media[LC Paper No. CB(2)737/98-99]. She stressed that it would be important to educate the public and our second generation about the roles and functions of the mass media so that the public could make demands on the mass media. The Society would continue its efforts in providing a channel for the public to monitor the mass media and make their views known to the mass media and the Government.

10. Responding to the Deputy Chairman, Vice-Chairman of the Society shared her experience in getting news coverage on the Society's activities. She said that the mass media was usually selective and had commercial considerations in their news coverage, and that the Society had experienced difficulties in disseminating their messages to the public through the mass media.

Television Broadcasts Limited

11. Representative of the Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) said that television news reporting must be factual and objective, and the media also had social and moral responsibilities. He said that TVB had always upheld the following principles of media ethics -

  1. the news being reported must have an impact on the life of the general public, and the taste or interest of the audience should not be the primary consideration;

  2. news must be obtained by fair and proper means;

  3. there should be stringent in-house editorial guideline; and

  4. there should be a high degree of self-regulation among news reporters and editors. Representative of TVB was of the view that public comments and feedback would be the most effective means to monitor television news reporting, and that any disciplinary body of media ethics should only be set up by the trade rather than outsiders. He agreed with the Society for Truth and Light Ltd that public education was important and the public should be encouraged to participate in monitoring the media. The representative, however, reminded members that in discussing media ethics, a distinction should be made between television information/entertainment programmes and television news programmes.

    Asia Television Limited

    12. Representative of the Asia Television Limited (ATV) briefed members on ATV's statement [LC Paper No. CB(2)737/98-99]. He said that ATV had an internal monitoring mechanism to ensure that its programmes followed the legislation and guidelines issued by the Broadcasting Authority.

    Hong Kong Federation of Journalists

    13. Representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists (HKFJ) said that HKFJ strongly opposed to obtaining news by unethical means, such as offering monetary rewards to the persons being reported. HKFJ believed that news reporting must be fair, factual and objective. While the mass media enjoyed press freedom, they should be aware of their social responsibility and must exercise self-regulation.

    Mr WONG Yuk-man

    14. Mr WONG Yuk-man was of the view that most media behaviour was market-driven and that a media monitoring forum or the code of ethics issued by HKJA could achieve little effect in improving the situation of improper news reporting. He said that commercial principles such as circulation figures and audience ratings had always been the principal concern of the media proprietors. He considered that public monitoring groups had only limited achievements in exerting pressure on the media. While political influence was not prominent in Hong Kong and legislation was less stringent on the print media, the media industry was largely driven by the income to be earned by advertisement. It would be more important, therefore, to enhance the quality of the audience or readers in order to exert pressure on the media proprietors to exercise self-regulation.


    Monitoring mechanism over the mass media

    15. Deputy Chairman shared the views of deputations that there should be minimal regulation of the media by the Government and that a monitoring mechanism should be set up either by the trade or other organizations to influence the media. However, Mr CHENG Kai-nam expressed doubt on the effectiveness of promoting media ethics by a public forum, since journalists had to follow orders of their bosses whose primary consideration would be the circulation figures or audience ratings. Mr Andrew CHENG shared Mr CHENG Kai-nam's views. In response, Chairman of HKJA said that while HKJA was fully aware of the prevalence of "market-driven journalism", he believed that it would be a long-term campaign to enhance awareness of and compliance with the media ethics within the trade. It would be necessary to take action now before media ethics further deteriorated.

    16. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG commented that there were different levels in the decision-making process of a newspaper or other media when selecting what to be reported, and the decision often involved a balance between social responsibilities and commercial considerations. He expressed doubts on the effectiveness of a public monitoring system in the absence of a reward and punishment mechanism. Chairman of HKJA responded that he would welcome suggestions on how to improve the effectiveness of a public monitoring forum. He was of the view that as mass media was a public trust, profits should not be the only consideration of media proprietors. He hoped the public could be educated to exert pressure on the mass media. Representative of HKNEA considered that public monitoring could have an impact on the media but he would not agree to formalizing the monitoring mechanism or introducing legislation in this respect. Ms Emily LAU remarked that the deputations had not called for legislation on the media ethics. She was more concerned about the establishment of a mechanism to receive and act on complaints concerning media ethics. Representative of HKNEA said that television companies were currently subject to more stringent regulation than the print media, and the former had already established complaint mechanisms. He considered that the public or the audience should have a say in what they would like the media to deliver.

    Code of ethics for the media

    17. Referring to the code of ethics adopted by members of HKJA, Deputy Chairman asked whether there was a unified code generally accepted by journalists or the media industry. He also asked whether there were any concrete guidelines for the media workers to follow, for example, when reporting student suicides. Representative of HKNEA said that introducing a unified code would run the risk of formalizing a regulatory framework for the media industry, as the move would ultimately lead to legislation restricting press freedom. HKNEA considered that the media should follow some basic principles while different media could adopt different standards within the parameters of existing legislation.

    Information and entertainment programmes

    18. Ms Emily LAU expressed concern that the general public might not be able to differentiate a television information and entertainment programme, e.g. "Focus on Focus" or "Hong Kong Today", from the news programmes since both types of programmes adopted similar reporting approaches. She asked whether reporters of the information and entertainment programmes should also receive similar training as news reporters. Representative of TVB clarified that "Focus on Focus" provided light entertainment rather than hard-stuff news, and the audience should be able to tell the difference. He also confirmed that reporters of information and entertainment programmes were also trained and subject to the code of conduct issued by the Broadcasting Authority. Representative of ATV pointed out that "Hong Kong Today" was a comprehensive information and entertainment programmes which reported on social and topical issues, and they were also subject to the code of conduct of the Broadcasting Authority. He added that there was an internal audit team in ATV to monitor all non-news programmes including advertisements on ATV.

    19. In response to Ms HO Sau-lan's enquiry on whether reporters of the television information and entertainment programmes should also be admitted as members of HKJA, Chairman of HKJA said that admission to HKJA was based on the employer's certification that the applicant was engaged in news reporting, and that HKJA members must abide by the Code of Ethics. In this connection, Mr CHENG Kai-nam also asked about the definition of news reporting. Representative of HKJA responded that there had been some debate on what should be regarded as news reporting and HKJA had adopted a broad definition in this regard. Mr WONG Yuk-man remarked that news practitioners themselves had a very clear concept of news reporting which was different from other factual or feature programmes. Representative of HKNEA said that he personally would not regard reporters of information and entertainment programmes as news reporters. However, all media practitioners should abide by the code of ethics generally.

    III. Meeting with the Administration

    20. The Chairman then invited the Administration to respond to members' concerns.

    21. Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS(HA)) stated that the Government had all along adopted a policy of minimum regulation of the media in protecting freedom of expression. He stressed that the Government had no intention to legislate or set up a new mechanism to monitor media behaviour. It was Government's position that education and public monitoring were more effective means to uphold media ethics. He assured members that press freedom had been provided in the Basic Law.

    22. Referring to a deputation's suggestion that Government should step up its efforts and increase manpower resources in monitoring the mass media, Assistant Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Entertainment) explained that the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) had deployed sufficient manpower to enforce the relevant legislation, such as the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. However, issues of public concern often involved the editorial policy of a newspaper or magazine more than the classification standard of obscene and indecent articles. TELA would continue to work with concerned organizations to enhance publicity and public education in tackling the problem.

    23. The Chairman thanked representatives of the deputations and the Administration for attending the meeting.

    24. The meeting ended at 10:45 am.

    Legislative Council Secretariat
    3 March 1999