LC Paper No. CB(1)299/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ITB

Legislative Council
Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting

Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 14 September 1998, at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon SIN Chung-kai (Chairman)
Hon MA Fung-kwok (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP

Public officers attending :

For Items III & IV

Miss Joanna CHOI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Information
Technology and Broadcasting (B)

Mr Eddy CHAN
Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing

Assistant Commissioner (Entertainment),
Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority

For Item V

Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting

Mr CHENG Yan-chee
Principal Assistant Secretary for Information
Technology and Broadcasting (D)

Director of Information Technology Services

For Item VI

Mrs Rita LAU
Deputy Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (1)

Miss CHEUNG Man-yee
Director of Broadcasting
Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3
Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LC Paper No. CB(1)138/98-99)

1 The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 28 July 1998 were confirmed.

II.Date and items for discussion for next meeting

2 At the request of the Administration, members agreed to advance the October Panel meeting from 12 October 1998 to 10 October 1998 at 9:00 am to receive a policy briefing by the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting following the Chief Executive's 1998 Policy Address on 7 October 1998.

(Post-meeting note: The 10 October 1998 meeting was subsequently rescheduled to start at 8:30 am.)

III.Use of dangerous goods in film production

(LC Paper No. CB(1)173/98-99(01))

3 Members in general welcomed the new regulatory system proposed by the Administration to ensure the safe use of dangerous goods in film production. A member however was also keen to ensure that the proposed system could cater for the operational needs of the film industry so as not to hamper its development. Addressing his concern, the Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (C for T & EL) reported that in devising the proposed system, the Administration had studied the licensing system in California of the United States (US), which was also complemented by a grading system that governed the type of special effects scenes each grade of licensed pyrotechnic operators (special effects) was allowed to handle. Members noted that it was the Administration's plan to model the local regulatory system on the US one, and that the Administration would engage the service of a Pyrotechnic Operator Special Effects (First Class) and a retired Fire Marshal from the US to advise on all aspects of the regulatory system. In addition, an apprenticeship system would be adopted to train up future operators.

4 Members also urged the Administration to ensure that the proposed regulatory system should enable local pyrotechnic operators to continue to practise their trade, and requested further information on the time and costs involved in training a first-class operator under the new system. C for T & EL confirmed that in the US, a third-class operator with two years' working experience and a pass in a higher level examination could apply for entry to the next higher class of license (i.e. second-class) and altogether, it would take about six years for a third-class operator to attain first-class level. However, in the case of Hong Kong where most of the special effects operators were already very experienced, what was lacking was a formal arrangement through which their previous training and experience could be officially recognised and accredited. The proposed Hong Kong licensing system for pyrotechnic (special effects) operators would need to take into account this development. Members noted that it was the Administration's plan to hire a first-class operator from the US in mid or late October 1998 to provide formal training to local operators and conduct assessment in late 1998 or early 1999 to enable the Administration to register on a provisional basis in about March 1999 those local operators who were assessed to possess an acceptable level of competence. The Administration would also finalise details of the training programmes, such as course duration and contents, in consultation with the aforesaid consultants from the US. C for T & EL advised that initially, the Administration would be responsible for the training costs but consideration might be given to charging some fees for attending the training courses in future.

5 In reply to members' questions on interim measures pending the institution of the provisional registration system, C for T & EL confirmed that in the meantime, the film industry would be required to comply with the requirements of the existing regulatory system by hiring pyrotechnic (special effects) operators recognised by the Commissioner of Mines for the creation of special effects using pyrotechnics and other dangerous goods.

6 On the readiness of the local film industry to abide by the proposed licensing system and stop the illegal use of pyrotechnics, C for T & EL reported that the Administration had already discussed the issue with the industry in detail and obtained their support for the establishment of a practicable and user-friendly regulatory framework. He noted that some film companies had also expressed willingness to engage qualified pyrotechnic operators from overseas for the creation of special effects scenes using dangerous goods in order to comply with the existing regulatory system.

7 As for the timetable for the enactment of legislation to give effect to the new regulatory system, the Administration advised that a retired Fire Marshal from the US had already been engaged in early September 1998 to provide advice on the regulatory framework and the relevant legislative proposals would hopefully be introduced into the Legislative Council in the 1999-2000 legislative session.

IV.Regulation of obscene and indecent materials transmitted through the Internet

(LC Paper No. CB(1)173/98-99(02))

The present regulatory regime

8 On the question of legal action taken out against the transmission of obscene and indecent materials through the Internet, C for T & EL confirmed that legal action could not be taken against the publication of obscene materials originating from overseas because this was outside the jurisdiction of Hong Kong laws. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (B) however highlighted the self-regulating role played by the industry. Members noted that the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA) had at the Administration's request compiled a Practice Statement (the Statement) which laid down detailed requirements on how to handle obscene and indecent materials transmitted via the Internet on the basis of the operations and standards of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO). These included requiring its members to take appropriate measures to prevent Internet users from placing or transmitting obscene material on the Internet or downloading such material into their own servers or data base, and to block access to the problematic Web site if necessary. The Administration added that as a result of such efforts, certain materials might have already been removed by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) themselves. The country where the Web Page originated could also block problematic Web sites.

9 A member expressed reservation on the viability of requiring HKISPA members to follow up complaints having regard to difficulties in tracing the source of indecent material as individual content providers and distributors might register false particulars. In response, C for T & EL clarified that the HKISPA or its members could always refer any unresolved or difficult cases to the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) who would then take follow-up action in conjunction with the Police in conducting further investigation.

10 To curb the dissemination of obscene material to young people through the Internet, members opined that instead of just relying on self regulation by the industry and acting on complaint only, TELA should adopt a more proactive approach and conduct regular checks on information transmitted on the Internet. In response, C for T & EL maintained that given the vast volume and transient nature of the information transmitted on the Internet, it would be neither practical nor effective to try to regulate and monitor actively the transmissions on a regular basis. The Administration considered it more advisable to target its resources on handling complaints and assisting ISPs to practise self-regulation. Moreover, reference to overseas experience had revealed that many advanced countries like Britain, the US and Australia also adopted a self-regulatory regime.

11 Commenting on a member's proposal on selective monitoring of suspicious Web sites advertised in newspapers or magazines that had a large circulation, C for T & EL stressed the need to strike a balance between regulation and freedom of expression. He pointed out that in alerting the HKISPA of certain suspected pornographic Web pages, the Administration had to be careful not to covey the misleading impression that it was seeking to interfere with the free flow of information. He further advised that the Government would review the Statement in October 1998 to assess its effectiveness and any suggestions on improvements to the self-regulatory regime, could be considered in that context. Members in general did not share his view and pointed out that selective monitoring would only take up minimal resources and was necessary as a demonstration of the Administration's determination to crack down on pornographic information on the Internet. They also suggested that the Police, instead of HKISPA, should be asked to take action when transmission of obscene material was detected. C for T & EL agreed to consider members' suggestions in the October review.

12 In this connection, the Chairman drew members' attention to the Security Bureau's proposal to formulate a new piece of legislation to combat child pornography.

Education and publicity

13 On the effectiveness of the Government's publicity and education efforts directed at preventing youngsters from browsing pornographic Web pages, the Assistant Commissioner (Entertainment), Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority reported that as a result of the Administration's publicity efforts, major ISPs were providing subscribers with free filtering software and offering special packages of service for teenagers by filtering objectionable Web sites using proxy servers. He added that to encourage the use of filtering tools, a list of commonly used filtering tools for home computer users had been posted on the home page of HKISPA, the Education Department (ED) and TELA. Members further noted that overseas experience had proved that although no 100% protection was guaranteed, filtering tools were of certain assistance.

14 On public education, in particular how the Administration could help computer-illiterate parents prevent their children from gaining access to indecent material on the Internet, C for T & EL informed that a number of departments were involved. For example, the TELA had been organising seminars and talks on this subject for principals, teachers, social workers, parents and students. The ED was exploring with the Committee on Home-School Co-operation ways to help parents provide guidance in this regard. Computer syllabuses for secondary schools had also incorporated the necessary information.

V.Progress of Year 2000 compliance exercise in Government, Government-funded and Government-regulated organisations

(LC Paper No. CB(1)173/98-99(03))

Progress in Government

15 Noting that 1% of the Government's critical computer and embedded systems would still be unable to achieve Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance by the first half of 1999, members requested further information on the systems involved, the reasons for and impact of the delay and the contingency measures. In reply, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (D) advised that these systems were mainly embedded systems. Among them, the food and water contamination monitoring system of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department would in fact be able to complete rectification in the first half of 1999 according to the latest progress reports. As for the Transport Department's traffic control and surveillance system in government tunnels, contingency plans had already been drawn up for the Department to roll back the system clock by four years to avoid possible problem caused by the year 2000. Meanwhile, the Government Property Agency had also started drawing up contingency plans for the building management system of government properties which could not achieve compliance until the second half of 1999.

Progress in Government-funded and regulated organisations

16 Noting that the joint trial of the computer systems of the Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company Limited, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association would not take place until the second half of 1999, a member requested assurance from the Administration that any problems so identified could be solved in time. In response, the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (S/ITB) assured members that a high-level steering committee comprising representatives from the trade, the regulatory bodies and the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau (ITBB) had been set up under the Financial services Bureau to monitor the compliance programmes of the financial services sector, and joint trials would be conducted where interflow of information was involved. The joint trial in question would be conducted in late 1998 or early 1999. He also undertook to convey members' concerns and urge the relevant bureaux/bodies to ensure that all essential trials would be conducted in time.

17 A member was concerned about the compliance position of subvented medical organisations and private hospitals, and opined that more parties should be involved in monitoring their compliance work on top of the Department of Health (DH). In this way, the Hospital Authority (HA), which was co-ordinating the compliance work of public hospitals and was dealing with similar problems, could give advice and assistance. In response, S/ITB advised that while the ITBB had assumed an overall co-ordinating and monitoring role in Y2K compliance work in the public sector, Y2K compliance work in hospitals and health care was co-ordinated and monitored by the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB) with DH acting as the regulatory body. S/ITB further advised that the DH had already been requiring subvented medical organisations and private hospitals to adjust equipment and conduct trials. Moreover, in view that certain medical equipment with embedded systems which depended on computerised date processing might have operational problems leading to possible medical mishaps, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department was also assisting the HA to conduct trials.

18 In reply to the Chairman's enquiry on whether the Airport Authority would require all its airport systems contractors and franchised service providers to provide information on their Y2K compliance positions, S/ITB advised that the Authority would be asked to include such information in its Y2K compliance progress report where the operation of these contractors and service providers had an impact on the operation of the new airport.

19 S/ITB further assured members that to enable the Administration to identify problems and take remedial actions well in advance, the Administration had strengthened the monitoring mechanism in respect of rectification work within government and in non-government organisations (NGOs) providing essential services to the public by increasing the frequency of reporting progress from bi-monthly/quarterly at present to once every month starting from January 1999. At the Chairman's request, the Administration also agreed to provide quarterly progress reports on the subject to the Panel. Admin

(Post-meeting note: A letter setting out the details to be included in the report as advised by the Chairman was sent to the ITBB on 15 September 1998.)

Progress in the private sector

20 On the related issue of Y2K compliance in the private sector and whether serious attention was given to the problem, S/ITB advised that the survey which the Administration was conducting with the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) aimed at assessing the latest position of the Y2K problem in Hong Kong, in particular the level of awareness and readiness among the small and medium sized enterprises. He added that support services in this regard were being provided at cost in conjunction with the HKPC through its Y2K Service Centre, whose telephone hot-line had been widely publicised as the Y2K Help Line. Members were informed that in addition to the HKPC, there were many computer consultants in the market that offered Y2K rectification services.

VI.Any other business - Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Producers' Guidelines (the Guidelines)

(The Guidelines and the information paper on its release tabled at the meeting and circulated to members thereafter vide LC Paper No. CB(1)202/98-99)

21 In explaining the short notice for this agenda item, S/ITB explained that the Administration was taking the first opportunity to brief members on the Guidelines as soon as they were ready for general release. He explained the background to the preparation of the Guidelines and referred members to a motion on editorial independence of RTHK carried at the meeting of the Provisional Legislative Council on 1 April 1998.

22 The Director of Broadcasting (D of B) briefed members on salient points of the Guidelines and stressed that the Guidelines only sought to reflect and codify RTHK's long-standing and well-tried editorial system for ensuring editorial independence, impartiality, accuracy and fairness. She further stressed that RTHK recognised the need to exercise its editorial autonomy with responsibility and pointed out that the promulgation of the Guidelines could help enhance RTHK's accountability and transparency.

23 In response to a member's comment on the role of the hosts of talk shows and phone-in programmes, D of B emphasised that it was also RTHK's concern that its hosts were demonstrably inter-active to encourage the widest possible airing of views and that they would treat the subject matter and their callers fairly. She further pointed out that in working out these guidelines, both the profession and the academia had been consulted, and RTHK would continue to welcome comments on the performance of individual hosts of its phone-in programmes. Members noted that apart from the complaint channels outlined in the Guidelines, RTHK also had its own internal procedures for handling serious misconduct, including taking disciplinary actions such as transfer of post, demotion, etc.

24 In this connection, S/ITB informed members that RTHK had already given an undertaking to abide by the Broadcasting Authority's codes of practice on programme standards and had instituted a system to compile statistical information on complaints received and the action taken. The RTHK also made regular reports to its listeners' and viewers' advisory groups.

25 In response to a member, S/ITB clarified that the Guidelines were for RTHK's internal use. However, the ITBB would welcome the compilation of similar internal guidelines by individual broadcasters.

26 Some members opined that to guard against unilateral amendment of the Guidelines as a result of staff changes in top management, there was a need to set out a clear amendment procedure. In response, S/ITB advised that as the Guidelines had been drafted after extensive internal consultation and with due regard to practices of recognized public broadcasting bodies, general journalistic principles and local circumstances, major and frequent amendments were unlikely. D of B supplemented that the Guidelines had already covered everything within RTHK's purview and that the journalistic principles embodied were clear. In her view, as the RTHK-editorial policy was well-tried and supported by the public as well as the ITBB, unilateral amendment by RTHK was highly unlikely. Notwithstanding, she agreed that technical amendments might be necessary which would be done in full consultation with the ITBB. In clarifying the ITBB's role in this regard, the Deputy Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting added that the framework agreement between ITBB and RTHK had already clearly defined their working relationship, and although D of B was accountable to ITBB in maintaining programming and service standards and overseeing departmental operation, as RTHK's Editor-in-chief she was ultimately responsible for all editorial decisions.

27 A member opined that the journalistic principle on the confidentiality of sources should be more emphatically expressed in the Guidelines to stress that it should be observed by the journalist concerned as a matter of principle. In response, S/ITB stressed that in interpreting the Guidelines, the focus should be on the spirit and on whether the principle of impartiality and fairness had been upheld rather than on the wordings only.

28 A member also expressed concern about the proper protection of sources in cases where the management and the journalist could not agree on whether to reveal information obtained in confidence. In addressing his concern, D of B pointed out that it was ultimately a journalistic judgement by the person concerned to decide whether to reveal such information. RTHK's management would try its best to offer general and legal advice if necessary.

29 On the nature of the Guidelines, S/ITB explained that the Guidelines were for use by staff of RTHK. Copies were circulated to members for reference and he stressed that it was not intended for consultation. The Administration would be pleased to explain the contents to members in greater detail if necessary.

30 The meeting ended at 4:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
22 October 1998