Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)801
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/BCS

Panel on Broadcasting, Culture and Sport

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 5 December 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon MOK Ying-fan (Chairman)
Hon MA Fung-kwok (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Henry WU
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members Absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting

Public Officers Attending :

    Item II

Mrs Rita LAU
Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (Acting)

Miss Joanna CHOI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (Film and Entertainment)

Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Acting)

Item III

Mrs Rita LAU
Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (Acting)

Ms Mimi LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (Broadcasting)

Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Acting)

Mrs Teresa WONG
Assistant Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Broadcasting)

Clerk in Attendance :

    Mrs Constance LI
    Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

    Mr Colin CHUI
    Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Confirmation of minutes of meetings and matters arising
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2)552 and 703)

1.The minutes of meetings held on 16 October and 7 November 1997 were confirmed.

II. Work of the Obscene Articles Tribunal
[Paper No. CB(2)680(01)]

2.At the invitation of the Chairman, the acting Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (SBCS(Ag)) briefed members on the Administration's paper. The salient points of discussion were set out in the following paragraphs.

Recruitment of adjudicators

3. On the question of whether Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) adjudicators should possess some special qualifications, SBCS(Ag) pointed out that since OAT was to advise on what was perceived to be the generally acceptable standards of the community, there was no special professional requirement of these adjudicators. As lay adjudicators, they were drawn from different backgrounds and interests, representing a wide cross-section of the community. Adm

4. A member noted that OAT adjudicators were often subject to very tight work schedule, and asked if there were difficulties recruiting more adjudicators. In response, SBCS(Ag) advised that the number of adjudicators had been more than doubled since the establishment of OAT in 1987, and there were currently 157 adjudicators serving on OAT. Adjudicators were recruited by the Government through open recruitment, and appointed by the Chief Justice. The Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau (BCSB)'s role was confined to administrative compilation of an applicants' list for onward transmission to the Chief Justice for appointment. As OAT adjudicators were appointed for a fixed tenure of office, regular recruitment exercises would be conducted to bring in new blood. With regard to the member's suggestion that the Government should maintain a list of volunteers who could serve on OAT, SBCS(Ag) agreed to relay the suggestion to the Judiciary.

Communication with Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA)

5. In response to a member, Acting Commissioner/TELA (C/TELA(Ag)) advised that it was TELA's practice to inform OAT of the classification of films and video tapes, which had already been examined by TELA under the Film Censorship Ordinance (FCO). SBCS(Ag) added that video tapes and laser discs which were not intended for theatrical release were subject to the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO). Prior classification by TELA under FCO would not be required.

Hearings on appeals

6. The Deputy Chairman expressed concern that the same presiding magistrate at the interim classification hearings would preside at the full hearings on appeal cases. SBCS(Ag) responded that the presiding magistrate was a permanent post provided for under COIAO. In view of the increased workload of OAT, an additional permanent magistrate post had been created to enable more effective staff deployment. At an OAT full hearing, the presiding magistrate would be assisted by four adjudicators who were not previously involved in the original interim classification. Such an arrangement increased the objectiveness and representativeness of OAT rulings. Besides, the appellant would have the chance to make representations at the full hearing, either by himself or through legal representative. There should be no doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the presiding magistrate. The Deputy Chairman requested that consideration be given to requiring an OAT full hearing be presided by a magistrate who was not involved in processing the original interim classification. SBCS(Ag) undertook to relay the request to the Judiciary.Adm

Classification statistics

7. Referring to paragraph 10 of the Administration's paper, a member asked about the reasons for fluctuations in the number of cases submitted for classification in the past few years. SBCS(Ag) replied that the upsurge of cases in 1994 and 1995 was due to the large number of obscene and indecent comic publications available on the market. At a member's request, she also undertook to provide the following statistics:

  1. numbers of voluntary submissions and referrals by law enforcement agencies/ Secretary for Justice for interim classification;

  2. number of interim classification rulings upheld by OAT at full hearings.

Public opinion survey

8. In response to the Chairman, C/TELA(Ag) said that the Government would conduct a large scale public opinion survey in 1998 to assess extensively public opinion on the adequacy of COIAO, the classification system and the community's standards on sex and violence. It would cover a sample of a few hundred people, and the findings would be available by the second half of 1998.

Newspaper articles of a sexually suggestive nature

9. Responding to the Deputy Chairman, SBCS(Ag) advised that the coverage of COIAO encompassed the text of an article. In deciding whether a text had violated COIAO, consideration had to be given to its overall effect on the reader, and the target readers. Classification of words or pictures of a sexually suggestive nature would be made in accordance with the prevailing decency standard of the community. But words like 'escort service' in newspaper advertisements could not be regarded as obscene or indecent under COIAO despite their sexual implications.

10. The Deputy Chairman was concerned that as OAT would only respond to requests for classification, it was possible that many newspaper articles containing indecent or obscene articles were not properly controlled under the present system. SBCS(Ag) responded that TELA operated a regular inspection system to monitor the contents of publications for sale to the public. Articles suspected to be in breach of the provisions of COIAO would be referred to OAT for classification, and enforcement actions would be taken where appropriate.

Increasing transparency of OAT hearings


11. A member suggested that consideration should be given to conducting interim classification hearings in public in order to enhance the transparency of OAT proceedings. SBCS(Ag) explained that this would mean that articles which might be classified as obscene would be available for public scrutiny. Nevertheless, she would relay the member's suggestion to the Judiciary for consideration. Adm

Repository of articles classified

12. At the request of a member, SBCS(Ag) agreed to provide statistics on the number of requests for accessing to classified articles in the repository, the rules governing access to such articles, and the fees for search of articles.

III. Award of Video-on-demand (VOD) Programme Service licence
[Paper No. CB(2)680(02)]

13. At the invitation of the Chairman, SBCS(Ag) briefed members on the outcome of the applications for the provision of VOD programme service in Hong Kong. Members noted that four applications had been received and carefully assessed by the Broadcasting Authority (BA) in accordance with the criteria in the Guidance Note issued to the applicants. Having considered the recommendation of BA, the Chief Executive-in-Council had given approval-in-principle to awarding a VOD programme service licence to Hongkong Telecom VOD Limited (HKTVOD) under the Television Ordinance. SBCS(Ag) said that as Government was informed of the legal proceedings against Star Interactive Television Limited (Star iTV) just before a decision was to be made on the licence award, a decision on the application of Star iTV was deferred until the significance of the legal action against the company had been fully assessed. The other two applications had been unsuccessful.

14. On the award of the VOD programme service licence to HKTVOD, SBCS(Ag) advised that it would have to await formal approval by the Chief Executive-in-Council after finalising the terms and conditions of the licence. As regards the application by Star iTV, SBCS(Ag) said that the legal proceedings would likely take some time noting that the first hearing was scheduled for 26 January 1998. In reply to a member, she advised that it would be unfair to HKTVOD for Government to hold back the issue of the VOD programme service licence pending conclusion of the court case against Star iTV. To allay members’ concern, SBCS(Ag) said that Government was making every possible effort to complete the assessment so that an early decision on the application by Star iTV could be made. She reiterated that it would be in the public interest to have an early launch of VOD programme services in Hong Kong and to introduce competition in the provision of such services.

Government's position on the application of Star iTV

15. A member asked about the implications should Government make a decision on Star iTV's application without waiting for the conclusion of the court case. SBCS(Ag) responded that the dispute was over the alleged misuse of confidential information bound by a contract between two commercial companies. In view of the legal proceedings, the Government had to satisfy itself that it would not be acting in contempt of the court in further processing the application of a litigating party. There was also the risk of Government being injuncted from processing the application. On the advice of the Secretary of Justice, Government considered it prudent to defer a decision on Star iTV's application.

16. Responding to a member's comments that Government seemed to be in a dilemma in awarding the second VOD programme service licence to Star iTV, SBCS(Ag) said that Government's policy objective was to have an early launch of VOD programme services while at the same time introducing competition in the programme service market. She assured members that Government was taking all necessary steps to protect its position, but it was premature to release details of such steps. As regards the member's suggestion of seeking the court's permission to expedite the litigation process on grounds of public interest, SBCS(Ag) advised that it would be inappropriate for Government to interfere with the judicial process, but she understood that Star iTV had applied for speedy trials. She stressed that Government was aware of the need to take early decision on Star iTV's application. Government would deal with Star iTV's application, without prejudice to the ongoing court case and it might not be necessary to wait for the conclusion of the court case.

Restrictions on foreign ownership

17. With regard to the restrictions on foreign ownership in respect of a VOD programme service licensee, SBCS(Ag) pointed out that the Television Ordinance required unqualified voting controllers (broadly, persons who were not ordinarily resident in Hong Kong and had not been so for seven years) to obtain prior written approval of the BA to hold, or acquire 2 % or more of the voting shares in a licensee. As HKTVOD was held indirectly by Hong Kong Telecommunications Limited which was 54.3% owned by a UK company and an "unqualified" voting controller under the definition of the Ordinance, HKTVOD had already applied for BA's written approval. BA had considered the justifications put forward by HKTVOD and was satisfied that HKTVOD would operate as a "local" company with its control and management exercised in Hong Kong. HKTVOD had also assured BA that the provision in the Ordinance relating to unqualified voting controllers not exercising more than 49 % of the voting control on a poll held at a general meeting would be strictly observed. She pointed out that non-compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance was unlawful and punishable under the Ordinance.

Regulation of non programme services provided by VOD licensees

18. Noting that the VOD programme service licence only regulated the provision of 'television programmes' by a licensee, a member enquired about the regulation of non-programme services provided by the same licensee. SBCS(Ag) responded that the non-programme services, such as electronic games, Internet and electronic shopping, etc., were subject to other laws of Hong Kong. For example, the contents of such services were regulated by COIAO.

IV. Items for discussion at the next and future meetings

19. Members agreed that the following items should be discussed at future meetings-

2 January 1998

  1. Preservation and conservation of archaeological sites.

  2. New sports and recreational venue.

6 February 1998

  1. Progress of the Government's review of the television environment in 1998.

  2. Policy on promotion of cultural exchange activities.

20. The meeting ended at 12:10 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
31 December 1997