Hong Kong: Inconsistent categorization of Indecent and Obscene Articles Leads to Discrimination and Self-censorship

The Hong Kong government is having its second round of consultation in the review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance and the deadline for opinion submission is July 15, 2012.

In a press conference [zh] on July 12, 2012, representatives from 15 local NGOs pointed out that because of the vague definition of “indecency” (cannot be viewed by under 18) and “obscenity” (cannot be distributed) in the existing ordinance, the judgement of the committee members in the Obscene and Indecent Article Tribunal (OAT) has been highly inconsistent and subjective.

Representatives from more than 15 organizations urged the government to loosen up the control of obscene and indecent articles in a press conference on 12 of July, 2012.

Joseph Cho from NutongXueshe (a LGBT group) pointed out the highly prejudicious judgement had put social and sexual minorities in a very vulnerable position. “For example when the heterosexual committee members of OAT see two men kissing, they may find that disgusting and classify them as ‘indecent', while the same article showing man and woman kissing can be viewed by all ages”, Cho said. He urged the government to loosen up the moral line for the sake of building a diverse, tolerate and open society in which people with different cultures can live together in peace.

Lam Oiwan [disclosure: she the writer of this article] , a writer at inmediahk.net whose article had been categorized at “indecent” back in 2007 pointed out that in order to prevent being prosecuted, both mainstream and online media have imposed very harsh self-censorship measures in the past few years. “Even though according to the ordinance there is exemption for articles that have artistic and scientific purpose, it is very difficult to implement as the judgement of OAT committee members is based on a single article (article-in-itself) without any additional and background information provided”, Lam explained. As a result, image such as Weiwei's artistic nude protest could easily be categorized as “indecent” if the committee members are ignorant of the artist and the political meaning of this artwork. In fact, Ai's photo has been censored in both mainstream and online media. Last year, a Facebook user's account has been suspended by posting the photo:

Prominent artist Ai Weiwei's nude artwork censored by Facebook.

The latest case of Facebook's self-censorship measure is the removal of campaign poster, also by NuTongXueShe urging netizens to submit their opinions before the deadline by Facebook Admin. The poster only shows the butt of a man, which is usually categorize as Class I material and can be viewed by all ages:

NuTongXueShe's recent campaign photo censored by Facebook.

Currently the OAT is playing a double role in administrative and judicial categorization of articles, which resulted in the highly subjective and inconsistent judgement as well as a lack of transparency in the categorization process. Deputy director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Chong Yui Kwong pointed out that the government should abolish the administrative categorization and let the court judge according to the ordinance in a open and transparent judicial process.

In addition, many activists are also worried that the government's suggestion to sponsor elementary schools for setting up filter system will turn into a de facto “green dam youth escort” project which not only targets at indecent and obscene censorship, but also political censorship. “The government should not take initiative in sponsoring any filtering system. Instead it should help the civil society to monitor the private run filters and prevent political censorship”, said Michelle Fong from Hong Kong In-Media.

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