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LCQ2: Management of posters displayed in public housing estates

     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, in the Legislative Council today (April 25):


     It has earlier been reported in the press that some District Council (DC) members intended to put up certain posters (e.g. posters about "Safeguarding of a corruption-free Hong Kong requires a clean government", "A march to protest against 'Ying and violence'" and "Protest against MTR fare increase") in public housing estates (PHEs) managed by the Housing Department (HD) to draw residents' attention to social issues, but HD refused to give permission.  I have also received complaints alleging that HD refused to give permission for the complainant to put up in PHEs posters on a motion moved in the Legislative Council to exercise the powers conferred by the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance for the purpose of inquiring into the acceptance of entertainment by the Chief Executive, as well as those posters which criticise the Transport Department's policies as confusing and object the cancellation of bus routes, and pointing out that such practice deviates from the past practice of HD which had all along permitted the posting of various kinds of posters.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the reasons why HD did not permit the aforesaid posters to be posted in PHEs, and why the current practice deviates from that in the past; whether HD has revised its internal guidelines on vetting and approving applications for putting up posters, or tightened the specific interpretation of such guidelines; if not, of the reason for the differences between the current and past practices which are both following the same internal guidelines, whether any policy change is involved, whether the authorities have exercised political self-censorship, whether the change in practice involves political consideration, and of the criteria for vetting the contents of posters;

(b) whether the authorities have assessed the impact of the current practice, including the impact on the work of Members of this Council and DC members in criticising and monitoring the Government and accounting for the work of the councils to members of the public, as well as the impact on the right of public rental housing tenants to receive social information; and

(c) whether the internal guidelines of the Government will be reviewed to safeguard the right of the general public to receive social information from Members of this Council and DC members?

Reply :


     Before answering the question raised by the Hon James To, I would like to emphasise that the Housing Department (HD) is firmly committed to providing a safe, clean and tranquil environment for all public rental housing (PRH) estate residents.  The welfare and well-being of residents are always the top priority.   The department has set up notice boards in public areas in PRH estates to allow a convenient channel through which Legislative Councillors, District Councillors, Non Government Organisations (NGOs) and residents associations (RAs) may display publicity materials (PMs) so that residents can receive information on the services, events and other issues of general public interest.  

     The broad principles for the display of PMs were established in 1999.   According to the existing arrangements for the display of PMs (including advertising posters), PMs should be informative, service or welfare-providing in principle, and non-profit-making in nature.  They should not carry any messages that are unlawful, obscene, defamatory or insinuating.  These requirements are clearly stated in the notice to applicants that are handed to anyone wishing to display PMs.

     Such arrangements have been operating smoothly since their adoption in 1999.  Regarding applications for the display of PMs, the HD has all along been maintaining a basis of neutrality, transparency, and fairness in processing these applications.   As long as the PMs comply with the established arrangements, they will be approved.

     However, with limited space on the notice boards in public housing estates, it is necessary for the HD to have a system to ensure fair allocation of the space available on the notice boards and all eligible parties will enjoy equal opportunity to disseminate their information.

     In 2011, the HD received a complaint from an individual Legislative Councillor that he had been maliciously criticised in a PM.  With a view to upholding the basic principle that PMs should not be used to criticise any individual regardless of their position, the HD clarified its guidelines on the arrangements in July 2011, making it clear that PMs shall not carry negative or derogative remarks against individual persons or parties.  This is in line with the HD's aim of setting up such notice boards, which is to provide a simple information platform.  They are not intended to be used to criticise individual persons or parties; or let individual persons or parties criticise each others.

     My reply to the three-part question raised by the Hon James To is as follows.

(a) The HD has not changed its longstanding arrangements for the display of PMs including advertising posters.  Generally speaking, the HD will allow the publication of PMs which are informative or provide information of public interest.  Messages that are unlawful, obscene, defamatory or insinuating will not be approved.  Under the existing arrangements for the display of PMs, most applications including those drawing people's attention to social issues as mentioned by Councillors, will be approved for display as long as they comply with the guidelines concerned.

     There has occasionally been inconsistency in the processing of applications for the display of PMs by individual public housing estates.  Indeed, some recent applications were not handled in a consistent manner.  These have been investigated by the HD and the inconsistency has arisen because some estate management staff, notably those managing outsourced public housing estates, have taken up their duties for a short period of time and have yet to familiarise themselves with the guidelines on handling the display of PMs.  I would like to emphasise that the HD has not made any changes to the principles on handling the display of PMs.

(b) The existing arrangements for the display of PMs (including advertising posters), which have been implemented since 1999, are working smoothly.  The HD has all along upheld the principles of openness, consistency, transparency, fairness and equity in processing all the applications for the display of PMs and will continue to do so.

     As mentioned above, applications for the display of PMs are normally approved on the condition that they do not carry messages that are unlawful, obscene, defamatory or insinuating.  Members of the Legislative Council and respective District Councils, as well as local RAs and NGOs can continue to use PMs posted on the notice boards in PRH estates to criticise and monitor the implementation of government policies or the operations of public utility companies or other institutions and to inform the public of the work of the Councillors or organisations concerned.  The HD's existing arrangements for the display of PMs will not affect in any way Councillors' ability to monitor the Government or other agencies, to inform the public of their work and to provide general information of public interest.  Nor will the arrangements undermine the rights of the public housing tenants to receive social messages.  It is also important to bear in mind that Councillors can disseminate information through a variety of other channels such as displaying posters at their ward offices, distributing leaflets or sending them by post and of course using online communication methods.

(c) In view of the recent cases of inconsistency adopted by a few individual estates in processing applications for the display of PMs, the HD has introduced an additional initiative to try to avoid such inconsistencies in future by requiring the respective Estate Offices to refer applications for the display of PMs with controversial content to Housing Managers of the HD headquarters for scrutiny.  In addition, should applicants be dissatisfied with the vetting outcome, they will be able to request that their case be reviewed by a Chief Housing Manager at the HD headquarters.  For routine applications, they will continue to be processed by Estate Offices.  

     The HD will continue to monitor the system for approving PMs to ensure that this system to provide information to PRH estate residents continues to be an effective communication tool for eligible parties.

Ends/Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:00


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