Media content regulation then reflected the national concerns, community values and social norms of the day. Two pieces of legislation - the Undesirable Publications Ordinance and the Public Entertainments Ordinance - stood out in this effort against Communist propaganda and other undesirable content in the form of publications, films and public entertainment such as cultural shows.
Communist propaganda, both blatant and covert, posed such a security threat that in October 1958, media regulators decided to impose a blanket prohibition on the importation, sale or circulation of publications from 53 publishing houses in Hong Kong and China. The British colonial government's Chief Secretary, Mr E. B. David, said, "These publishing houses have in the past consistently published material containing subversive Communist propaganda" .
A major challenge for media regulators, was how to uncover Communist propaganda contained in seemingly innocuous media:
- From the file, "Selection of Teochew Songs", we see how a Chinese dialect song became a vehicle for glorifying Communism. "It tells of an old fisherman and his daughter who sing about the happy life of fishermen after the (Communist) liberation and about the beautiful and expansive seas of the motherland" .
- From the file, "New China Stamps", we see how the Communists used the hobby of stamp collecting to propagate their ideology. "... Although the detained publication bore the innocuous title of "Stamp Collecting", its contents surreptitiously propagated the Communist ideology. All the seized issues showed how the Communists consistently and systematically utilised this pastime as a medium for the dissemination of Communist propaganda and indoctrination" .
- From the file "Football in the USSR", we also see how sports became a tool for Communist propaganda. "Interspersed between paragraphs of the book are passages which have nothing to do with football but are inserted to eulogize the United (sic) Soviet Socialist Republic (sic) and the Communist Party of U.S.S.R." .
Media content regulation has since evolved to one that is largely based on content classification. But the guiding principles remain the same - (i) upholding community values and supporting racial and religious harmony; and (ii) safeguarding national and public interest.
Today, most of the prohibitions (including those with Communist-related content) under the Undesirable Publications Act have been lifted following reviews of media content regulations and guidelines, to keep in step with the changing environment .