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The freedoms of speech, expression and information flow are the cornerstone of Hong Kong's economic development and fairness in society, and these freedoms cannot be violated. The free flow of information in Hong Kong, coupled with our excellent physical infrastructure, is key to many of our ICT opportunities: Internet data centers, new media, and digital entertainment. The free expression of ideas in our culture has made our people one of the most creative in Asia. However, this advantage that we enjoy is not without threats in the eleven years after the handover.
A number of controversial rulings by the censors at Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) in recent years has shown the problems in the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) – from the classification of obscene materials to the inconsistencies of, and the discrepancies from society values in the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). With the widespread use of the Internet, online service providers and their employees are often put at risk of the burden of responsibilities and indeed even liabilities, or against the dilemma of screening content which is often against the values and commercial interests of these providers and the professionals on the job. Moreover, the Great Firewall of China has made business and private communications over the Internet increasingly inconsistent or even problematic for many service providers and their users.
At the same time, there is a shrinking trend in the public sphere of opinions. Self-censorship by various media outlets is well-documented. The review on public service broadcasting and the future of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) are delayed and long overdue. The pending – and also delayed and long overdue – merger of the telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory bodies presents yet another layer of uncertainties about the future content regulatory regime.
On the other hand, there is no legislation that regulates Government information archive administration, or guarantees the rights of citizens to obtain government archive or information, similar to the Freedom of Information Acts in the U.S. and the U.K., where general right of access to information held by public authorities is stipulated by law. The Government should initiate consultation and legislation in this area in the spirit of open governance.
In this critical core area of concern, I will:
* Propose a private member bill -- “Information Freedom Protection Act” -- stipulating and guaranteeing basic freedom of information in Hong Kong, with provisions to provide “safe harbor” protection for online service providers and ICT professionals; * Urge that Government consultation on information archive administration and rights of citizen access to public information to be conducted as soon as possible; * Monitor the review of COIAO and any future amendments, to ensure that it will catch up with present community standards, provide strong enforcement, but not in any way negatively affect online freedom of speech and expression. * Demand Government to allocate some frequencies held for digital television for the use of public channels, for the broadcasting of publicly produced programs, to broaden the digital public sphere for various communities and especially minority interests. * Advocate a reasonable transition for RTHK to the new Public Service Broadcasting body, with proper regard for RTHK's positive asset in its tradition and public image, while ensuring public representation in its governance structure.