Should Hong Kong street performers need a license? Yes, says think-tank

Citing the ever-escalating “arms race” for audience attention in the world of Mong Kok street performers, a local think-tank has called on authorities to create a licensing scheme for buskers to deal with excessive noise and obstructions caused by clusters of entertainers around the city.

In a report released this week, Civic Exchange set out several recommendations to boost the vibrancy of the city’s street life and reform the “opaque, ad-hoc and overlapping” bureaucracy responsible for regulating it.

From authorizing outdoor dining to permitting temporary hawker bazaars, currently at least nine government departments oversee different aspects of street management, according to the report, which recommended setting up interdepartmental task forces to smooth the process.

As for busking, it noted while there were several laws related to public performances, they were rarely enforced and, instead, authorities practiced a fairly “hands off” approach, which had led to several “problematic hotspots.”

Hotspot number one, needless to say, was Mong Kok’s Sai Yeung Choi Street — known for its nightly swarm of singers, musicians and dancers who compete for crowds and cash, often to the chagrin of local residents and shop owners.

Reaching (for) the sound barrier: Mong Kong street performers prompts store to take action

Citing permit systems elsewhere in the world, the authors proposed pursuing a “location-based” rather than a “one-size-fits-all” licensing scheme, though, wary of restricting freedom of expression, they suggested keeping licenses free or requiring only a token sum, and advised against any “audition process.”

They also recommended allocating performance “transparently and fairly” on a rotational basis to avoid spots being “monopolized,” and suggested further regulating the use of mobile amplifiers, the current proliferation of which was, understandably, not envisioned in the 1964 law requiring a permit for playing instruments in public. 

Such a scheme, the report stated: “would have the additional benefit of providing street performers with legitimacy so that they are not perceived as beggars by law enforcement officials or the public.”

It could also reduced “turf disputes and ensure a fairer allocation of space.”

“Hong Kong has some of the most vibrant and unique street life in the world. But the level of enjoyment has been impaired severely because of poor management and obsolete policies,” said Civic Exchange CEO Winnie Cheung in a statement accompanying the report.

There needs to be a coordinated effort by the government to restore order and unleash the true potential of Hong Kong’s charismatic street culture.”

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