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February 2008

Delete it from the Internet

More wise words on the Interweb from SCMP readers (subscription required):

First, I suggest the government should set up an authority to monitor the internet.

It should consist of people from various occupations, such as social workers, teachers and psychologists. Through the experience they have accumulated in their respective professions, they can judge whether information is obscene or not.

Then they would have the right to delete it. Of course, the authorities cannot monitor everything. Therefore, a hotline should also be set up for citizens to publish or report their opinions on this issue. In addition, the government should promote the message warning people of the risks they bear when reading obscene material.

It is the moral responsibility of everyone not to handle obscene material.

Eunice Chan Yu-sze, Kwun Tong

Well, good luck with deleting material from the Internet...


As clear as the pictures on Cable TV

The Standard reports that "a pay tv operator" wants to be allowed to re-transmit the digital channels on its network:

If successful, the change would be a boon for i-CABLE Communications'  Cable TV service and PCCW's Now TV, essentially expanding their content offerings for free and allowing their subscribers to watch the Olympics in digital format.

One pay-TV operator is pushing the government to amend the Copyright Ordinance so that both Cable TV and Now TV can carry TVB and ATV channels without threats of copyright infringement from the terrestrial broadcasters.

If pay-TV operators were allowed to deliver the terrestrial television channels, more Hong Kong residents would be able to watch the Olympics in clearer digital format, the operator argued in a letter to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

The lobbying effort revives moves made in 2004 by Cable TV to carry the free-TV channels over its system, a practice that was ended when Television Broadcasts won a court case saying the retransmission was illegal.

Ho hum.  Mention a "clearer" picture to subscribers to Cable TV or Now TV and I think you will be greeted with hollow laughter.  When Cable TV converted to digital, it was all about stopping piracy and adding extra channels, not about improving picture quality - which remains very disappointing.  Now TV are just as bad, except that they are rolling out an HD service, and I suppose that adding the new ATV/TVB HD and other digital channels would enhance their offering.  So I rather doubt that this is an altruistic move to help TV viewers who want to watch the Olympics.

Yet it clearly makes sense.  In the UK, cable tv is required to carry the 5 terrestrial channels, and currently the only way you can get BBC HD is on satellite or cable.  So I'm not clear why TVB would want to prevent their channels being re-broadcast when surely this can only bring in more viewers, especially in the interim period whilst digital is being rolled out.  What can they possibly lose by allowing this?

Mind you, it's the sort of strange thing that is always happening here in the "world's freest economy".


Celebrity culture gone mad

Amazingly, the "nude photos scandal" is still front page news in Hong Kong newspapers.  The latest non-news is that Edison Chen has admitted he did take the photographs, and also announced that he will quit showbusiness "indefinitely".  Beats me how that is worth more than a few paragraphs in a gossip column, but the SCMP has given the story half of the front page of the main paper and all of the front page of the city section, and most of page 3 as well.  And not for the first time, either.

This follows on from the blanket coverage given to the death of "Fei Fei" (Lydia Shum) after her "long fight with cancer" as the SCMP put it.  I felt sure it had been a "courageous battle", but what do I know?

Anyone, everyone knew that she was seriously ill, so this was not a shock by any means, and yet there was a huge (and very undignified) media scrum at the hospital on Tuesday, and it occupied the first 7 minutes of Cable TV news (with a long follow-up item later in the bulletin).  Both TVB and ATV cleared their schedules for tributes in the evening, so we were able to see what a warm and truly funny person she had been.  The SCMP filled us in on her career (and numerous health problems): 

Shum, who was also known as Lydia Sum, was a much admired Hong Kong comedian and actress – famous for her plump size and dark-rimmed glasses. Hong Kong people affectionately called her Fei-fei (Fatty).

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he was greatly saddened by Shum’s death and extended his condolences to her family.

Liberal Party’s Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said: “She was such an important and talented actress in Hong Kong. Her positive, happy image always set a great example,” she said.

And there I was, thinking she was just a jolly, fat, woman who made people laugh.   

Shum was born July 21, 1947 in Shanghai. She made her film debut in 1960 with the Shaw Brothers. She became well-known in widely televised TVB variety show Enjoy Yourself Tonight, first singing with the female group Four Golden Flowers in the 1970s.

Shum subsequently established herself as predominantly a comic and dramatic actress, appearing regularly in films over the past 40 years. These included The Lotus Lamp 1965, Three Women in a Factory 1967, The Country Bumpkin in Style 1974 and more recently In-Laws, Out-Laws 2004 and Where Are They Now? 2006, among others.

Somehow I seem to missed those cinematic classics.  Except that it's possible that The Country Bumpkin in Style was the film that ATV showed on Tuesday night, and I did catch 5 minutes of that. 

Yes, I'm afraid that I just don't get it.  Why does TVB fill its schedules with variety shows peopled by their roster of artists doing unexceptional things with enthusiasm and little more.  How did Shum win"Best Comedy Performance by an Actress" award at the 2003 Asian Television Awards (for Living with Lydia).

I feel like the bewildered foreigners in London in September 1997 who must have wondered why "Diana mania" seemed to have overtaken the whole population.

Back to the other big story, the one that Albert Cheng rightly called "nothing but a farce". 

The newspapers look foolish because they have devoted huge amounts of space to a story that is really very trivial.  When things like this happen in the USA or UK, you can read about it in the tabloids for a few days and then the story goes away.

Continue reading "Celebrity culture gone mad" »


Still no legal downloads

It's progress of a sort, but it's no use to those us who live outside the UK.

The BBC is going to start selling downloads of shows through the UK iTunes store.  Which means that if you forgot to watch a show, and you forgot to record it, and you couldn't be bothered to watch it for free on the iPlayer during the following 7 days, you can pay a rather steep £1.89 per episode to download and watch it on your iPod or through Apple TV whenever you want.

Meanwhile, those of us who don't live in the UK, and therefore couldn't watch these shows on TV (and  can't record them), and who cannot access the iPlayer, will now also not be able to download the shows. 

That's because BBC shows are only available from the UK iTunes store, and  anyway there is no iTunes store in Hong Kong.   


Nothing better to talk about

Today the Hong Kong Observatory lowered the "cold weather warning" that has been in force for more than 3 weeks.  Apparently that isn't quite a record, as this warning was in place for 27 days in 1968, but normally it's only in force for 2-3 days.

In the past I have been rather scornful about this, but frankly it really has been quite cold for the last few weeks.  The problem is that apartments in Hong Kong really aren't designed for cold weather (wooden floor, thin walls, single-glazed windows...), and some people feel an odd compulsion to open the windows just so that everyone knows that it's winter.

Shut the windows!!  Buy a heater!  Switch it on!

Anyway, it's getting warmer now.   


Rude register

The problem with Talkback (the SCMP's 2nd letter column) is that they clearly don't have enough material, and so they will print almost anything, however muddled or irrelevant.  Yesterday there was a marvellous example on the subject of the dodgy photos "scandal": 

The widespread distribution on the internet of immodest photos of celebrities has generated controversy. I see this as an alarm bell, reminding us that we have to control indecent material on the internet.

A lot of indecent material on the internet appears on websites that are popular with teenagers. To protect youngsters and prevent their minds being corrupted by what they see, we must take measures to control the uploading of this material.

All website owners wishing to display any obscene material in Hong Kong should have to register first. These registered websites would have to indicate clearly that they contained indecent material, so that people were alerted and did not enter the sites unawares.

This would minimise the confusion surrounding certain websites and also make it easier for concern groups to censor them. People running websites accessible to the general public would be legally responsible for monitoring the material on them.

Unless a site was registered, the operators would have to ensure no obscene material appeared. It would be their responsibility to immediately delete any unsuitable material. Internet surfers could report any breaches of the regulations.

Adolescents may have misconceptions about sex, and they want to know more about it. The government should not just get tough with obscenity on the internet but also promote sex education in schools, so that young people can develop a healthy understanding of sex.

Emily Kong, Wong Tai Sin

I don't know where to start.  What can you do with someone who thinks that Hong Kong can control or censor what goes on the Interweb?   

Not that the government doesn't try.  Obviously websites outside Hong Kong are not subject to Hong Kong law, but it is theoretically against the law for a Hong Kong citizen to post a link to obscene material (which is bizarre when search engines will help you find whatever you want).  However, it seems that it is not illegal for the photographs to be sent by email, and presumably sending a link via IM would also be OK. 

Could Hong Kong websites be required to register in order to display obscene material?  Not really, because the law in Hong Kong does not allow obscene material to be published.  Not that it matters, because everyone in Hong Kong can access websites that are based overseas and which would not be subject to these rules.  

Ban the Interweb, that's what I say.


Horrid images

The funniest story of the moment has to be the one about appearance on the Interweb of some, er, candid photographs featuring several Hong Kong pop stars.  It's even made it to The Guardian (Film star sex scandal causes internet storm in China), but here's the SCMP:

The photos that appeared on the internet last week are purported to be of Edison Chen, Gillian Chung Yan-tung of girl duo Twins, actress Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi and former actress Bobo Chan Man-woon.

Would this be a good time to admit that I barely know who most of these people are?  Still less care about them.

Today's newspapers report a press conference on Monday given by Gillian Chung Yan-tung in which she admits to being "naive and very silly in the past" (Twins star apologizes to her fans).  A pop star being naive and silly?  Well, well, well.

Fortunately the police have acted with commendable speed to deal with this serious crime, and have apparently traced the technician in a PC repair shop who found the photographs on a computer and then uploaded them.  Now they just have to figure out which serious crime he may have committed.

Some cynics apparently think that the police only acted so quickly because celebrities were involved.  No!  Of course the photos have now been seen by almost everyone in Hong Kong, so all that police activity may all have been in vain.  Still at least they tried to help.   

Meanwhile, the SCMP had an amusing angle on the story (Beware kids' shattered fantasies, parents urged - subscription required):

"Edison Chen has been portraying himself as a bad boy like James Dean so young girls who fantasise about him might not be as shocked," [Baptist University social work lecturer and culture critic Bottle Shiu Ka-chun] said.

"But for Chung's fans, this is traumatic. Chung has been portrayed as an innocent young girl and the horrid images in these obscene photos may have killed some youngsters' fantasy of her pure image."

Hong Kong pop stars roll off the production line complete with images that need to be maintained by their PR people.  Some may recall the huge fuss caused by some earlier photographs of one (or was it both) of the Twins changing costumes backstage in Malaysia, in which a bra was apparently visible.  Shocking stuff.   Well, maybe not.  

Au Wai-kwong, team leader of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong's Sham Shui Po district youth outreaching social work team, said he had yet to receive any calls for help from youngsters distressed by the images. But he said teenagers had expressed concern about how the internet is used. "They are very confused by what police have been saying," Mr Au said.

image Are Hong Kong youngsters really so naive as to believe that the public image of these pop stars are anything more than the work of their management companies?  Possibly not. If Gillian Chung Yan-tung was "rumoured to be romantically linked to Chen" (as the SCMP put it) what do the fans imagine they were doing together?  This could explain why no-one was distressed by the images (but there is no news on how many people were distressed by the amount of coverage given to this non-story).


Follow the money

Has the Premier League gone mad?  They have apparently decided that what they really need is an extra 10 extra games added to the season, and to play them overseas in January (Top clubs consider overseas games):

At a meeting in London on Thursday, all 20 [Premier League] clubs agreed to explore a proposal to extend the season to 39 games.

Those 10 extra games would be played at five different venues, with cities bidding for the right to stage them.

It is understood the additional fixtures could be determined by a draw but that the top-five teams could be seeded to avoid playing each other.

So, in the middle of the season, players will have to travel thousands of miles to play one game at a neutral venue, and then travel back to England to continue the season.  Good thinking.

I can't imagine them playing a midweek game and then rushing to Heathrow to catch a flight to Sydney or wherever, and it's hard to believe that they'd get back in time for the following Wednesday, so this seems likely to cause severe disruption to the FA Cup and League Cup (which occupy most of the midweek slots in January). 

Well, yes, most of the bigger clubs field reserve and youth team players in the cup competitions and could theoretically manage it, but we have to maintain the fiction that they pick their strongest possible team, so the games would have to be re-scheduled.  Or maybe they'll just abolish replays in the 3rd and 4th rounds and make the semi-finals of the League Cup into one-off games.  Not good for the smaller clubs, but who cares about them?

After the success of the Barclays Asia Trophy in Hong Kong last summer, it seems like a fair bet that we'd be seeing two of the games here.  The winning cities are likely to be the ones where the Premier League is already popular, and after PCCW paid a reported £100m for the Hong Kong rights they would probably be willing to fund a live game here (and would be able to attract other sponsors).  In addition, there may be bids from rich states such as Dubai.  Yes, it really is all about money.   

Continue reading "Follow the money" »


Blu-Ray is too good

Spike's column in BC Magazine this week muses on one possible reason why HD-DVD & Blu-Ray have failed to take off:

And, to be honest, my suspicions are that the general public either doesn’t give a shit about the increased quality offered by HD DVDs or doesn’t want to invest the money in new players, TVs and audio systems required to get the most from this new format.

I believe that DVDs succeeded in no small part because they physically looked completely different from what had come before while Blu-Ray discs look essentially like standard DVDs.

Well, maybe more than just looking different - DVDs replaced video tape and (in Hong Kong at least) laser discs because they were  smaller and more convenient.  The picture quality on laser discs was good, but after lugging two quite heavy discs home you would need to get up from your chair at least twice to turn over and then swap the disks.  No need to do that for a VHS Video tape, but they were easily damaged and had to be rewound after use.  In Hong Kong, DVDs had another advantage - multiple languages and subtitles.

HD-DVD and Blu-Ray don't offer any equivalent advantage over DVDs (apart from the box being fractionally smaller), so it's all about picture quality.  And maybe Spike is correct and people don't care too much about that:

Higher definition audio formats, both SACD and DVD-A, were both met with total indifference from the general public; why should there be general acceptance of a higher definition video format when most people think that standard definition DVDs are good enough?

In a world in which most people are happy enough with the fidelity offered by compressed MP3s or the low resolution images on YouTube, why do they need high definition video?

This idea smacked me in the face recently when a friend told me how happy he was to find the film 2001: A Space Odyssey on VCD. VCD is about as low fidelity a medium as you could find. And the thought of watching Stanley Kubrick’s meticulously filmed images on a smeary VCD rather than a super-sharp Blu-Ray was like comparing a Big Mac with Kobe beef. But, let’s face it, more people eat Big Macs than Kobe beef and are quite happy to do so. For this friend, VCD will be good enough.

Ah, VCDs.  Pretty much an Asian thing as far as I know.  As with laser discs, a complete film will not fit on one disc, and the subtitles are not switchable (though you can have a choice of two audio tracks), but the picture quality varies from murky to poor.  However, if you only plan to watch a film once (particularly if it isn't going to win any awards for cinematography - i.e. most HK movies) why not save money?  

Which certainly doesn't auger well for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.  Presumably the strategy (if there is one) is that they are currently for 'early adopters' only.  Then in a year or two the prices of discs and players will fall and they will move into the mass market, gradually replacing DVDs.  By which time we'll be downloading whatever we want to watch from iTunes or its competitors.   Great strategy, guys.