Monday, May 21, 2007

An Eye on the Storm - The Chinese University of Hong Kong and freedom of speech

Some might ask, what does a student newspaper in Hong Kong have to do with an Asian entertainment blog? The way I report things is that all media is considered "entertainment," and if the freedom of speech in one form of entertainment is threatened in Asia, that makes it The Golden Rock's business.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning: There are three "categories" for printed and film materials in Hong Kong. For printed material, a category I is considered "neither obscene nor indecent," a category II is considered "indecent" and would publishers would subjected to heavy fines and/or jail time (the Easyfinder issue that featured pictures of Twins' Gillian Chung changing taken by paparazzi was given a categoryII) if it was released to the general public with no warnings and not wrapped in plastic bags. Lastly, a category III would just be flat out "obscene."

Apparently, I'm risking being complained to the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority for linking you to this material, but I'm not in Hong Kong, so here.

The link above shows scans of either the February or March "sex page" of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Student Newspaper, which started in December of last year. Now, even though my own college newspaper (or any American college newspaper, for that matter) didn't have a sex page, these things are actually quite common even in Hong Kong mainstream newspapers. Basically, they include things like prostitution experiences and sex discussions, so a sex page in a student newspaper is actually not that huge of a deal. If you can read Chinese, the CUHK newspaper page has the typical sex columns and Q&A's. It's not particularly explicit, though it's surprising to see a Hong Kong publication to deal with the subject in a rather frank fashion rather than a sensational fashion, as the mainstream papers often do.

However, in the March issues, there was a questionnaire for its readers that ask questions about their thoughts on incest and bestiality (translated by EastSouthWestNorth), and over a 100 complaints started streaming into the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority and the school. The school immediately reprimanded the newspaper and it has been told by the authorities that the questionnaire will cause that issue be upgraded into category II (it's an interim decision, meaning they are sending the paper to the Obscene Articles Tribunal, and is telling the newspaper that they MIGHT just classify it as category II), setting off great controversy on the campus and the city. Since the newspaper was already released to the general public without plastic bags and warnings, the CUHK newspaper would be fined, and its editors may even face jail time if the tribunal decides to classify the paper as category II material.

On one side, your conservatives (based on this recent discussion show, which featured director Wong Jing on the forum) are saying that speech should have a moral limit, that the whole thing was done not only in poor taste, but offensive to parents who just want their kids to get a "straightforward education." On the other hand, the editors protest the decision, saying the school is restricting their freedom of speech and saying that they are using such a paper to engage people to think about sex. Ming Pao Daily is also now risking having one of its issues classified for reprinting the pages in question on the newspaper, pushing the controversy even further.

With most Hong Kong Chinese language bloggers supporting the school newspaper, 1,700 people started a movement, complaining about the contents of the bible to the TELA in order to show the absurdity of the system, not just to mock it. They argue that the bible contains incest and violence, which makes it indecent material. However, the TELA decided not to send the bible to the Obscene Articles Tribunal for classification because it's a historical document that has been generally accepted by respectable members of the community. This sparks another question (also raised in the discussion show I linked above): If one million people in Hong Kong vote that the CUHK newspaper is not obscene, would that make it "generally accepted by respectable members of the community?"

Not struck down, complaints against other publications are being lodged with the TELA, including the Koran, Oriental Daily (which has a pretty big sex page that they call "the Male Extreme Circle, a wordplay on the Chinese word for Antarctica. Don't ask), and even Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, Ming Pao polls several adjudicators from the Obscene Articles tribunal with random sex pages from newspapers, along with the CUHK paper. Seven of the adjudicators would actually only classify the CUHK page as a category I, and six of them actually rated it the tamest out of the four samples.

Like Wong Jing said in the discussion show, it's OK to bring up things like incest and bestiality. The newspaper did not encourage such actions; they only meant to stir readers' thoughts and think about their own views about such issues. However, even in America, the term "freedom of speech" is subjected to "community standards." This means "acceptable" words are purely dependent on whether it's acceptable by the community in which the word was said, which would put CUHK in a precarious position. The mainstream isn't ready for things like incest and bestiality, which means they would deem it "indecent."

Of course, Wong Jing also criticized that the page's problem was that it "sucked," and while I would certainly agree it's done in poor taste, I don't believe that these students should be punished so heavily for it. Reprimanded, maybe, but heavy fines and jail time just seem an awful lot for a tasteless sex survey.

Of course, maybe it's just because I'm a dirty non-Christian liberal with no sense of morals.

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus