on 10 May 1999
ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Public Opinion Survey on the Operation of
the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance
This paper informs Members of the findings of the public opinion survey on the operation of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO).
2. We undertook in the 1998 Policy Address to review the COIAO with a view to improving its operation and effectiveness. We indicated that we would conduct a public opinion survey on the operation of the COIAO, the findings of which would provide an important input in the formulation of our policy proposals for public consultation in 1999.
THE PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY
3. In September 1998, the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) commissioned the Lingnan College to conduct a public opinion survey to evaluate public opinions on the effectiveness of COIAO, gauge public perception of the level of moral standards generally accepted by the community, and collect views on possible areas of improvement.
METHODOLOGY OF THE SURVEY
4. The survey comprises two parts: the general survey and focus group survey. Views were collected through face-to-face interview with respondents with the assistance of a questionnaire. The survey covered the following five broad aspects :
- knowledge of the classification system under the COIAO;
- public understanding about the work of the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT);
- public perception of the moral standards generally accepted by the community;
- effectiveness of self-regulation of obscene and indecent articles transmitted through the Internet; and
- effectiveness of civic education and publicity efforts in protecting young persons from being exposed to obscene and indecent articles.
Field work for the survey was conducted between September and December 1998.
5. The general survey covered 1 107 members of the public aged 18 or above. The sample was selected by a two-stage random process. At the first stage, with the assistance of the Census and Statistics Department, 4 000 household addresses were selected from the Register of Quarters in Hong Kong through systematic replicated sampling. At the second stage, a simple random sampling process was used in selecting a respondent aged 18 or above within the household. All respondents were asked to complete a questionnaire.
6. The focus group survey aimed to collect in-depth views from people of different social background to supplement the findings of the general survey. The sample comprised 200 persons selected from different sectors of the community, namely professionals (including lawyers, doctors, businessmen, IT professionals, PR consultants, artists, designers), social workers, mass media professionals (including reporters, producers, publishers), teachers, parents, students over the age of 18, concern groups (including women groups, religious groups, Provisional District Board/Urban and Regional Councils/Legislative Council members), and the general public.
7. Two copies of the full report of the survey (both in English and Chinese) have been deposited with the Legislative Council Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting Secretariat for perusal by Members. The executive summary of the report is at Annex
8. The major findings of the public opinion survey are elaborated in paragraphs 9 to 18 below.
Knowledge of Classification System
9. Although there was general awareness of the existence of a classification system for obscene and indecent articles, only 22.6% of the respondents in the general survey could correctly identify the classification system. Some 78.7% of the respondents in the general survey and 50% in the focus group survey considered the present three-tier classification system appropriate. As regards nomenclature, most of the respondents (67.4% in the general survey and 72.5% in the focus group survey) considered that there was confusion between the system for classifying articles under the COIAO and the film classification system under the Film Censorship Ordinance.
Understanding the Work of OAT
10. The survey revealed that the OAT system, i.e. a presiding magistrate sitting with lay members as adjudicators, had the general support of the public. Some 75.9% of the respondents in the general survey and 66.5% in the focus group survey considered it appropriate for the OAT to assume responsibility of classifying articles. Most of the respondents (80.4% in the general survey and 67.5% in the focus group survey) agreed that the OAT should classify articles on the basis of standards of morality generally accepted by the community. The majority of the respondents (87.8% in the general survey and 94% in the focus group survey) considered that members of the public should be involved in the classification of articles.
Perception of the Prevailing Standards of Morality
11. The survey revealed that in respect of obscene articles, the existing classification standards of the OAT were generally in line with the expectation of the community. Standards for the classification of articles in newspapers, magazines and comic books with indecent elements did not appear to match the more conservative standard of the respondents. In particular, the respondents reacted strongly to indecency in written form. For example, over 60% of the respondents in both surveys opined that written articles giving information on pornographic web sites, prostitution brothels and containing indecent materials should not be published in newspapers or Class I magazines. There was widespread support for the need to protect juveniles from exposure to indecent articles. Some 52.8% of the respondents in the general survey and 72.6% in the focus group survey gave this as the reason for objecting to the publication of indecent articles in newspapers and Class I magazines. Most of the respondents (57.5% in the general survey and 65.3% in the focus group survey) considered that comic books depicting violence and bloody fighting should be restricted to adults.
12. Over 60% of the respondents in both surveys considered the penalty for publishing Class II (indecent) and Class III (obscene) articles appropriate.
Restrictions on Access to Indecent Articles
13. In both surveys, over 80% of the respondents considered the present restrictions on the publication of indecent articles, i.e. sealing the article in a wrapper and the display of a warning notice, acceptable. On the other hand, over 70% of the respondents considered these restrictions not effective in preventing the sale of indecent articles to juveniles, and even more respondents (79.3% in the general survey and 87% in the focus group survey) indicated that these measures were not effective in preventing juveniles from buying such articles.
14. Civic education, parental guidance and heavy penalty topped the list of effective measures (as perceived by the respondents) in preventing young people from accessing indecent articles in both surveys (for the general survey, 55.9%, 52.5% and 49.1% of the respondents respectively, and for the focus group survey, 72.5%, 58.5% and 67% respectively).
Obscene and Indecent Articles Transmitted through the Internet
15. Of the 1 107 respondents in the general survey, only 13 indicated that their children had accidentally come across obscene or indecent articles on the Internet. Four out of the 200 respondents in the focus group survey indicated that their children had accidentally come across such articles.
16. Most of the respondents (73.2% in the general survey and 75.9% in the focus group survey) considered that it was not appropriate to rely solely on self-regulation by the Internet service providers (ISPs). In both surveys, more than 80% of the respondents (86.5% in the general survey and 82.9% in the focus group survey) considered that Government regulation was effective in preventing young people from accessing obscene and indecent articles on the Internet, followed by civic education (85.7% in the general survey and 75.3% in the focus group survey), parental guidance (75% in the general survey and 67.3% in the focus group survey) and self-regulation by the ISPs (58.3% in the general survey and 49.2% in the focus group survey).
Effectiveness of Civic Education and Publicity
17. The survey revealed that publicity and civic education relating to control of obscene and indecent articles were generally considered inadequate.
Means to Prevent Juveniles From Accessing Obscene And Indecent Articles
18. In the general survey, 80% of the respondents considered that parents played an important role in preventing youth from accessing obscene and indecent articles, followed by media (76.6%), schools (74.6%), Government (71%) and publishers (67.5%). In the focus group survey, the order was media (75%), parents (74.4%), publishers (68.5%), schools (54.8%) and Government (54.5%).
19. As the survey report was only received on 29 April, we will need time to study and analyse the findings of the survey. As stated in paragraph 2 above, we will take into account the findings of the survey and in the light of the operational experience of the enforcement agencies (i.e. Police, Customs and TELA) identify areas for improvements. We will formulate policy proposals and other related regulatory measures for public consultation later in the year.
Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority