LCQ8: Arrangements for display of publicity materials in PRH estates

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, in the Legislative Council today (May 2):


     It has been reported that since March this year, the Housing Department (HD) has been stopping District Council (DC) members or political parties from putting up posters with the heading of "The Chief Executive has become corrupted", posters calling on members of the public to take part in the "June 4 march and candlelight vigil" this year or posters on "Safeguarding of a corruption-free Hong Kong and upholding core values", the practice of which differs from the past standard of HD under which the posting of posters was permitted.  HD staff even ripped off posters objecting to MTR fare increase and criticising the Chief Executive-elect (CE-elect).  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether HD had informed the relevant DC members and public rental housing tenants before changing its past standard under which posting of posters was permitted;

(b) whether the aforesaid practice of HD was related to the directions given by policy bureaux, CE's Office or CE-elect's Office; and  

(c) of the legal basis for the scrutiny of the poster contents by HD; if there is no legal basis for that, whether it will allow afresh relevant DC members and political parties to put up the aforesaid posters?



     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 HD 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 and residents associations may display publicity materials (PMs), including publicity posters, so that residents can receive information on the services, activities and other information of general public interest.

     The arrangements for the display of PMs (including publicity posters) have been operating smoothly since their adoption in 1999.  According to the existing arrangements, 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 having insinuations.  These requirements are clearly stated in the notice to applicants.

     The HD has all along been maintaining a basis of neutrality, transparency and fairness in processing the applications for the display of PMs.  Applications will be approved as long as they comply with the established arrangements.

     With limited space on the notice boards in PRH estates, however, it is necessary for the HD to formulate a system to ensure that the space available on the notice boards is fairly allocated so that all eligible parties enjoy equal opportunities to disseminate their information.

     In 2011, the HD received a complaint from an individual 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 individuals regardless of their position, the HD clarified its guidelines on the arrangements in July 2011, making it clear that PMs should 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.  These notice boards are not intended to be used to criticise individual persons or parties, or let individual persons or parties criticise each other.

     My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) and (b) The HD has not changed its arrangements on display of PMs and the principle of handling applications, which have been adopted since 1999.  All along, the HD has been processing applications for the display of PMs in a neutral manner and on the basis of openness, transparency, fairness and impartiality.

     We noticed that there has been some inconsistencies in the processing of applications for the display of PMs by individual PRH estates, and that individual applications have not been handled in a consistent manner.  Having investigated into the cases, HD found that such inconsistencies have arisen because some estate management staff, particularly 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.  Such cases are not related to any policy bureaux, the Chief Executive (CE)'s Office or CE-elect's Office.

     Also, the HD has introduced a new measure to avoid as far as possible the reoccurrence of 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 can request that their cases be reviewed by a Chief Housing Manager at the HD Headquarters.

(c) In managing PRH estates, the HD has the responsibility to provide a safe, clean and tranquil environment for all PRH estate residents and accords top priority to their welfare and well-being.  Owing to the limited available space on the notice boards, and in order to ensure fair allocation of the space of notice boards so that all eligible parties can enjoy equal opportunities to disseminate their information, the HD has the right and need to formulate appropriate guidelines on the regulation of the display of PMs.  As mentioned above, as long as the contents of PMs comply with the established principles, the HD will normally approve their display.

Ends/Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Issued at HKT 11:23