The Newspaper and Article Administration Division enforces the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390).

The Ordinance

The Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390) (COIAO) deals with the publication and display of obscene and indecent articles. Its spirit is to protect young people’s well-being by preventing their access to indecent materials.

The COIAO has established the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) that adjudicates on the offensiveness of the articles voluntarily submitted to it by publishers and law enforcement agencies, or referred to it by magistracies in the course of proceedings.

Under the COIAO, articles are classified into three classes:

Class I:
Neither obscene nor indecent
Class II:
Indecent
Class III:
Obscene

The interpretation of “obscenity” and “indecency” in the COIAO include violence, depravity and repulsiveness. Indecent articles cannot be published to persons under the age of 18, and must carry a statutory warning notice. Obscene articles are banned.

We monitor the articles available on the market, and, where necessary, submit articles to the OAT for classification and refer articles to the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) for investigation. We pay periodic visits to retail outlets, including bookshops, newspaper stalls, video shops and computer shops, to check whether obscene or indecent articles are sold or rented. The Customs and Excise Department and HKPF are also designated enforcement agencies under the COIAO.

To enhance public awareness of the COIAO, we carry out a variety of public education activities. Details are available here.

Enforcement Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions

ArrWhat articles are subject to regulation by the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390) (COIAO)?
All articles that fall within the definition of “article” in the COIAO are subject to regulation by the COIAO. Under the COIAO, an “article” is “anything consisting of or containing material to be read or looked at or both read and looked at, any sound recording, and any film, video-tape, disc or other record of a picture or pictures”.
ArrWhat are the definitions of “obscenity” and “indecency”?
According to the COIAO, a thing is obscene if by reason of obscenity it is not suitable to be published to any person; and a thing is indecent if by reason of indecency it is not suitable to be published to a juvenile. “Obscenity” and “indecency” include “violence, depravity and repulsiveness”.
ArrWhat is the definition of “publish”?

According to the COIAO, a person publishes an article if he or she, whether for gain or not:

  • distributes, circulates, sells, hires, gives or lends that article to the public or to a section of the public; or
  • in the case of an article consisting of or containing material to be looked at, or that is a sound recording or a film, videotape, disc or other record of a picture or pictures, shows, plays or projects that article to or for the public or a section of the public.
ArrWhat is the definition of “public”?
According to the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1), “public” includes any class of the public. The COIAO extends the definition of “public” to include the members of any club.
ArrWhat criteria does the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) adopt in its classification of articles?

According to the COIAO, in determining whether an article is obscene or indecent, the OAT has to take into account:

  • standards of morality, decency and propriety that are generally accepted by reasonable members of the community, and in relation thereto may, in the case of an article, have regard to any decision of a censor under section 10 of the Film Censorship Ordinance (Cap. 392) in respect of a film within the meaning of section 2 (1) of that Ordinance;
  • the dominant effect of an article or matter as a whole;
  • in the case of an article, the persons or class of persons, or age groups of persons, to or amongst whom the article is, or is intended or likely to be, published;
  • in the case of matter publicly displayed, the location where that matter is or is to be publicly displayed and the persons, class of persons or age groups of persons likely to view such matter; and
  • whether the article or matter has an honest purpose or whether its content is merely camouflage designed to render any part of it acceptable.
ArrIs it a requirement that articles must be submitted for examination prior to being sold on the market?

There is no such requirement, although a publisher may on his or her own accord submit relevant articles to the OAT.

ArrWhat restrictions and penalties apply to the publication of indecent articles under the COIAO?

The restrictions and penalties stipulated in the COIAO are as follows:

  • An indecent article must be sealed in a wrapper with a warning notice displayed on both the front and back covers. If the front and back covers of the article are not indecent, it must be sealed in a transparent wrapper. If either the front or back cover of the article is indecent, it must be sealed in an opaque wrapper. No indecent article shall be published to a person under the age of 18.
  • The name, full address of the place of business and telephone number of the publisher must be clearly and conspicuously printed either on the front cover or the back cover.

Whether or not the publisher knows that an article is indecent, if he or she is found guilty of publishing an indecent article, then he or she is liable to a maximum penalty of a HK$400,000 fine and 12 months' imprisonment for the first conviction and to a HK$800,000 fine and 12 months' imprisonment on the second or subsequent conviction.

ArrWhat restrictions and penalties apply to the publication of obscene articles under the COIAO?
The COIAO stipulates that no one shall publish, possess for the purpose of publication or import for the purpose of publication any obscene article; whether or not the publisher knows that an article is obscene, if he or she is found guilty of publishing an obscene article, then he or she is liable to a maximum penalty of a HK$1,000,000 fine and three years’ imprisonment.
ArrDoes the COIAO apply to materials published on the Internet?

The COIAO applies to articles published in Hong Kong, including materials published on the Internet. Both articles in print and internet-based publications are subject to the provisions of the COIAO, which is in place primarily to control the dissemination of obscene or indecent articles. Articles likely to be classified as Class II (indecent) according to the COIAO should be preceded by an entry page on the Internet carrying the required statutory warning. Those likely to be classified as Class III (obscene) are prohibited from publication.

To provide guidance for Internet Service Providers, the HKSAR Government has, together with the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA), developed a self-regulatory “Code of Practice”.