Paper No. CB(2)1785/98-99(03)

For discussion
on 26 April 1999

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Regulation of Publication of Articles and Photographs of a Violent or Indecent/Obscene Nature


This paper briefs members on the provisions of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) governing the publication of articles and photographs of a violent or indecent/obscene nature.


2. The publication of obscene and indecent articles is regulated under the COIAO (Cap. 390). Obscenity and indecency as defined in the Ordinance include violence, depravity and repulsiveness. The term "article" is defined as any thing consisting of or containing material to be read or looked at or both read and looked at, any sound recording, and any film, video-tape, disc or other record of a picture or pictures, extract at the Annex.

3. Under the COIAO, an article may be classified as :

Class I :Neither obscene nor indecent
Class II :Indecent
Class III :Obscene

Class I articles may be published without restrictions. Class II articles must not be published or sold to persons under the age of 18. Publication of Class II articles must comply with certain statutory requirements, including sealing such articles in wrappers (opaque wrappers if the covers are indecent) and display of a warning notice as prescribed by the Ordinance on no less than 20% of the front and back covers of such articles. Class III articles are prohibited from publication.

4. The Obscene Articles Tribunal which is a judicial body is responsible for and has exclusive jurisdiction in determining whether an article is obscene, indecent or neither. The Tribunal comprises a presiding magistrate and two or more members of the public drawn from the community to serve as lay adjudicators. Submission of articles to the Tribunal for ruling as to whether it is obscene, indecent or neither is entirely voluntary.

5. In determining whether an article is obscene or indecent, the Tribunal shall, under section 10 of the COIAO, have regard to the standards of morality generally accepted by reasonable members of the community, the dominant effect of the article as a whole, the class or age of the likely recipients, the location at which the matter is displayed and whether the article has an honest purpose (extract at the Annex).

6. The COIAO is not intended nor designed to regulate newspapers per se. Nevertheless, newspaper by definition should fall within the meaning of "article" and therefore subject to the COIAO. However, professional and journalistic ethics of newspaper are unequivocally outside the scope of the COIAO.

Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
22 April 1999