The Films Act (FA) sets out the regulatory framework for the distribution, exhibition and possession of films in Singapore. Under the Act, distributors and exhibitors are required to obtain a licence from the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). All films also need to be submitted to IMDA for classification. The FA, therefore, ensures consumers can make informed choices about films and video games, protects the young from mature content and ensures that films do not undermine national harmony or security, or the public interest. It was enacted nearly four decades ago in 1981 to replace the Cinematograph Films Act, inherited from the British, and to deal with the advent of video tapes and discs. Since 1998, changes have also been made, for instance, to address the introduction of video compact discs (VCDs) and the spread of obscene films.
Sir, films play an important role not only in entertaining the public but also in informing and educating Singaporeans and shaping our social development. The FA must, therefore, be updated to remain relevant for the films industry and consumers, but also to continue to safeguard the public interest.
The world today has changed significantly since 1998, 20 years ago. The films industry, the broader media landscape and the needs and demands of Singapore consumers have evolved. There are three key trends that underpin our proposed amendments.
Second, technological developments continue to spur changes in film distribution and consumption. Film exhibitors no longer need physical or digital copies of a film to screen it. Instead, the film can be stored remotely, locally or overseas, and streamed over the Internet to a public screening in Singapore. Digital cinema, as this is known, is already a reality in the US. Video games are also becoming more visually realistic, increasingly featuring mature themes, such as violence, gore and sex.
The broader media environment has also shifted as a result of digital advances. We live in an era of media pervasiveness. This gives Singaporeans greater viewing and entertainment choices, but we also have to remain vigilant against content that could weaken our security, stability or unity. Around the world, we have seen a sharp rise in content that spreads discord, extremism and hatred, as well as information campaigns that seek to interfere in elections or the affairs of other countries. While such activities can take the form of tweets and posts, they can also take the form of films. We cannot let them take root here.
Third, our society has become more educated and mature, even as the film and media landscape has grown more dynamic and complex. Coupled with the subjective nature of how films can impact viewers and society, this means that what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate content today could be different tomorrow. IMDA should, therefore, have the means to reconsider and update classification-related decisions, especially those that were made many years ago.
Mr Deputy Speaker, MCI and IMDA conducted a four-week public consultation last year to gather feedback on the amendments. MCI and IMDA have also engaged the films industry and community since late 2016. We have received much useful feedback and have modified some of our proposals. Our goal is to make the films regulatory regime more business- and consumer-friendly, while ensuring that it remains relevant and effective going forward.
The first set of amendments seeks to formalise the co-classification scheme, which we have piloted since 2011 for video distribution, and 2015 for film exhibition. The scheme involves allowing external film content assessors (CAs) trained by IMDA to classify films and videos up to PG13. Sections 19 to 20C of the Bill will formalise this scheme by setting out the registration requirements for film CAs, the types of films they can classify, the duties of the film CAs, and the regulatory steps that may be taken against misclassification.
The co-classification scheme will nurture a pool of CAs familiar with the film classification guidelines and enable films and videos to be brought to the market more quickly, thereby benefiting both film exhibitors and distributors, as well as consumers.
IMDA will put in place safeguards to ensure that our content standards are upheld. I would also clarify that the scheme is optional; industry players will get an additional option for film classification, but those who prefer to submit films to IMDA for classification can continue to do so.
The current FA requires all films to be classified. Anyone who wishes to import, make, distribute or exhibit a film will also need to be licensed by IMDA, unless exempted. Going forward, the type of activities to be regulated will be reduced.
First, the Act will be amended to reflect IMDA’s focus on the distribution and public exhibition of films. Clauses 7 and 11, therefore, clarify that licensing and classification will only apply to the distribution and public exhibition of films henceforth. Section 6 is amended to remove the making and private exhibition of films from the FA’s licensing scope. Section 21 is similarly amended so that films meant for private consumption no longer need to be classified.
However, IMDA will still be able to require a film to be submitted for classification. For instance, IMDA may receive feedback that a film contains content that could undermine public interest and would thus require the film for review. This provides a balance between protecting the public and reducing regulatory reach.
Second, section 6 will also clarify that a licence is required for the distribution or the public exhibition of films in the course of any business, regardless of whether the core business involves film distribution or exhibition. Such activities need not necessarily be carried out by cinemas or video retailers; one can easily purchase a DVD at a bookstore. Our intent is to regulate the distribution and public exhibition of films consistently, regardless of the nature of the business. Our concern, Sir, is with the film activity and content, rather than the entity or person. To focus IMDA’s regulatory efforts further, we also intend to grant exemptions. For instance, there is currently no need to obtain a licence for the public exhibition of films that are classified up to PG13, and we are considering further exemptions for distribution and classification.
Third, with technological advances, an exhibitor in Singapore no longer requires the physical reel to screen a film. A cinema operator can have the film digitally streamed from overseas for public exhibition. Clause 3 updates the definitions in section 2 to allow IMDA to regulate the public exhibition of films consistently, whether they are screened from a copy or via a transmission. Since online streaming has made film exhibition possible without a physical or digital copy, we also propose to amend section 35 to clarify that exhibiting prohibited films is also an offence, besides the possession and distribution of such films.
Fourth, section 10A is introduced to allow IMDA to create a system of class licences for film activities where a lighter regulatory approach is appropriate. Clause 3 introduces a new definition for video games, to clarify that only physical video games will be regulated under the amended Act. These changes will enable IMDA to enhance the protection of minors by establishing an automatic class licence for retailers of video games. IMDA will be able to impose licence conditions, such as specifying that retailers do not sell M18 video games to underage patrons. Since the class licence is automatic, video game retailers need not register, nor will there be licence fees or performance bonds. It would be largely business as usual for these retailers.
First, a new section 15 will empower IMDA to reclassify films. Films are classified based on the film classification guidelines, which are updated from time to time to reflect our evolving norms and values. A film classified in the past may thus qualify for a different classification rating today. This amendment will enable IMDA to respond to new information or changes in the film classification guidelines, by reviewing past classification decisions, to keep them up to date. A film may be reclassified to a higher or lower rating. Should stakeholders be aggrieved by the reclassification, they may appeal to the Films Appeal Committee (FAC).
Second, a new section 28 will set out a new right of appeal to the Minister against IMDA’s decision in areas other than classification, like refusing licensing, suspending or revoking licences or refusing to register a person as a film CA. This will bring the FA in line with other media laws which have such provisions, and ensure that the industry has avenues of recourse for both classification and non-classification related decisions.
Third, section 24 which deals with appeals against IMDA's classification decisions will be amended to allow a broader group of appellants, so long as these persons have a nexus to the film. This includes the person who applied for classification, the person who intends to distribute or publicly exhibit the film, the maker of the film, and the film CA whose classification rating has been overruled by IMDA.
Fourth, section 24 will also be amended for appeals against IMDA's decision to refuse classification for films that are against national security. These appeals will henceforth be heard and decided by the Minister instead of the FAC. We have proposed this amendment as ensuring national security is one of the Government's core responsibilities. It is neither ideal nor fair for a citizen panel, such as the FAC, to assess threats to national security, as members may not be privy to the full extent of security concerns due to the sensitivity of the information. Notwithstanding this, section 24A requires the Minister to first consult with the FAC before coming to a final decision, to preserve citizen representation in the deliberation of such appeals.
I would add that films are rarely disallowed on grounds of national security, but we need to be vigilant. The amendment also takes into account the increasing pervasiveness of media and how different media, including film, can be used to disseminate content that could undermine our security.
Lastly, section 25 is amended to allow the Minister to appoint between 15 to 21 members to the FAC instead of 15 members currently, to change the quorum from five members to at least one-third of members, and to determine the term of FAC members for up to three years. Sir, this will allow for greater representation within the FAC and address situations, such as appointing new members to fill unexpected vacancies mid-term.
The fourth set of amendments seeks to extend IMDA's enforcement and investigation powers for better administration of the Act. I will elaborate on the need for these amendments as they received the most feedback during our public consultation.
Besides protecting the young, films are also regulated to ensure that the content does not undermine the social fabric of our society, racial and religious harmony or national security. This is particularly critical, given our diverse, multi-racial and multi-religious society. As one of the smallest and most open countries, we are also highly susceptible to foreign influences and information campaigns that can undermine our social values and sow discord among our communities. Advances in technology mean that such undesirable content can easily be disseminated locally, through the rapid and mass reproduction of films in thumb drives, DVDs or SD cards, or streamed from overseas for screening in Singapore. Issues like race and religion have torn many societies apart, but, in Singapore, we live together harmoniously. This did not occur by chance and we need to continue to work hard to preserve it.
Under the current FA, IMDA, as the licensing and classification authority, already has powers to enter premises and seize items that constitute evidence, without warrant, for serious offences, such as those involving obscene and unclassified films. These powers are vital to the protection of public interest so that IMDA is able to secure the necessary evidence for prosecution. Without-warrant powers and the use of reasonable force to gain entry are crucial, given the ease of flight and the ease of removing evidence. For example, an ad-hoc public exhibition of an unclassified film can be over in two hours or less, while thumb drives and SD cards, can be quickly and easily disposed of.
However, Sir, there are two gaps today. First, IMDA's existing enforcement powers do not cover several serious offences, such as those involving films prohibited by the Minister on public interest grounds and unlicensed public exhibition. Second, IMDA has no powers to require information or record statements from persons who have knowledge of the offence. Today, even if IMDA seizes obscene or unclassified films under existing powers, the matter has to be passed over to the Police for investigations, despite IMDA having the requisite expertise.
Sections 23, 34 and 34A in clauses 11 and 20 will address these gaps. These new sections empower IMDA to: first, request information and documents that are necessary to ensure compliance with the amended FA and gain access to places where films are publicly exhibited or distributed for inspection purposes; second, require the attendance of persons for the purpose of investigating breaches and offences under the amended FA; and third, enter with the occupier's consent or a court warrant, search and seize evidence with a court warrant for FA offences. However, for serious offences in the Act, such as those involving obscene and unclassified films, an IMDA enforcement officer can enter, search and seize evidence without warrant.
We have also made several adjustments to address public feedback. We have confined these powers to the more serious offences, extending them only to those involving prohibited films and the unlicensed public exhibition of films. These offences are specified in section 34A.
The power to enter and search without warrant will only be exercised when the enforcement officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the specified offences have been committed or are being committed, or that evidence of the commission of the specified offences can be found in the relevant premises and it is necessary to secure the evidence to prevent it from being concealed, lost or destroyed.
The new sections 23, 34 and 34A will enable IMDA to enforce the FA effectively and efficiently whenever necessary. They will also allow the Police to focus its resources on other threats to security and law and order. Sir, I would like to assure the House that IMDA will calibrate its enforcement actions and only use the most intrusive powers when it is absolutely necessary to safeguard public interest.
We will also enhance the range of IMDA's regulatory actions so that it can better tailor regulatory responses to the severity of breaches. Section 11 is amended to widen the range of regulatory actions that can be taken against licensees for non-compliance with the FA. For instance, IMDA will be able to act against a single outlet of a distributor for a breach, instead of penalising every outlet under the distributor.
Sections 3 and 4 are amended to dissolve and transfer the functions of the Board of Film Censors (BFC) to IMDA. This simply regularises the existing practice where the Minister has appointed IMDA officers to the BFC since 2003. Thus, there is no need to maintain a BFC structure that is distinct from IMDA. There will be no knock-on changes to the classification processes.
Several sections are amended to remove the minimum fines for various FA offences. This will align the FA with modern legislative practice which gives the Courts discretion to impose an appropriate sentence, unconstrained by minimum fines.
Section 38 introduces standard provisions so that corporations and unincorporated associations or partnerships are also liable for offences under the FA and not just individuals. Section 38B provides for the composition of less serious offences.
Consequential amendments are also made to the Cinematograph Film Hire Duty Act due to the transfer of functions from the BFC to IMDA, and the Public Entertainments Act as it has cross-referenced the FA's definition of "film".
Sir, the amendments proposed are a practical set of changes that will allow MCI and IMDA to respond to changes in the film and media landscape, while ensuring that the FA remains relevant to both industry and our society. But the media environment remains highly dynamic. MCI and IMDA will continue to review both local and international developments and consider future changes to the Act when the time is right.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, for allowing me to speak on a matter that will help grow the media industry here and that has been refined to address national security.
The Films Act sets out the framework for regulating the distribution, exhibition and possession of films in Singapore. MCI's amendments to the Act, following a wide review, aims to help develop our media industry in Singapore, without undermining our religious harmony, racial harmony, public interest and matters of security. MCI and IMDA's content regulatory approach reflects the community standards while providing more choices for consumers and protecting the young.
I will touch upon four main areas of the Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker. Formalisation of the Co-Classification Scheme; Appeals against IMDA’s Decisions; Clarification on Films Classification; and Enhancements to IMDA’s Investigation and Enforcement Powers.
Starting with the new Films Bill which will formalise the Co-Classification Scheme, IMDA has piloted co-classification by film content assessors (CAs) for PG13 and below, and CAs can only co-classify prescribed categories of films (PG13 and below). I applaud this move, as it is pro-business and in the interests of the consumer.
Moreover, this move also helps strengthen capabilities within the media industry to better understand classification guidelines and processes, while consumers can get access to films more quickly. I wanted to ask, since this Scheme is optional, as films can still be sent to IMDA for classification, how has the response been from the industry in adopting this?
However, from the IMDA point of view, I would like to understand why it is, in a way, "outsourcing" its classification responsibilities. The intent of the Films Bill is to safeguard content standards. What are the safeguards in place to prevent the newly-formalised co-classification scheme from being abused? What happens in cases of misclassification? Have there been examples of such cases since it was piloted?
Further, there is already an existing appeals process for film classification. Why does IMDA need film reclassification powers? Are there safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of these powers by IMDA? For instance, could IMDA be lobbied by interest groups or could be put pressure on, to reclassify controversial films to give them either higher or lower ratings? How do we ensure that this does not happen?
On the Films Appeal Committee, currently, the Films Appeal Committee (FAC) comprises a mix of individuals representing the community, creative, legal and education sectors, as well as academia. How can we make the composition more representative of the community? Will MCI or IMDA take suggestions from the industry for suitable nominations to the FAC?
I spoke to members of the film community and they would like to suggest increasing the transparency and accountability of the FAC's decisions and not just receive an opaque reply. Would MCI or IMDA be open to being more engaging with the industry on the FAC's decisions?
On appeals involving films with national security concerns, I am satisfied that the amendments in the Bill took into consideration that national security is one of the Government's core responsibilities, as the FAC may not be privy to the full extent of concerns from security agencies due to the sensitivity of information.
Some of the community had asked whether the FAC should be maintained as the appeal authority for films with national security concerns. There are concerns that if Minister is to decide on such appeals, they may not be able to represent themselves and explain the context of their work. So, is it possible that the appellants be allowed to make in-person representations to the Minister, or the FAC is part of Minister's consultation process? Will the FAC be consulted before Minister decides on the appeals involving national security and whether their inputs will be given weightage in this process?
Replacement of "NAR" with "Refused classification": a very small number of films that exceed acceptable community norms or are against public interest are not allowed for distribution or public exhibition. Such films are currently determined to be Not Allowed for all Ratings (NAR). Under the new FA, such films would be refused classification by IMDA. Why is there such a change in terminology?
As I understand it, the NAR is just a simple change in terminology, can the Ministry confirm that there is no change to its meaning or application with the new "Refused Classification" terminology? I understand that there have only been two such films that have been classified as NAR or prohibited in the past. What are the thresholds and how are the norms and boundaries of public interests defined?
Through my interactions with the local film industry, they are concerned that the new term "Refused Classification" could also be misunderstood by the wider international film community and affect the reputation of our film makers and films. They are also concerned that the term implies that the film is not viewed by IMDA prior to classification. Minister probably has to watch many of these films to decide. Can the industry be assured that all films will be viewed prior to being branded “refused classification”?
If the Minister decides on appeals of films that are “refused classification” for undermining national security, how will the appeals process for such films change from current procedures, where appeals are submitted to FAC under the existing FA?
Under the new Act, IMDA will undertake the enforcement authority from the Police. These include powers to request information such as documents, as well as interview persons and take statements for a suspected breach of FA or licence conditions. As such, the IMDA enforcement officers will be granted powers to enter, search and seize evidential materials, such as film-making equipment, to enforce against FA offences.
How has IMDA been enforcing against FA offences thus far, given the gaps in enforcement and investigation powers? Have MCI or IMDA considered the merit of continuing with the existing enforcement framework where IMDA relies on the Police where it does not possess the requisite enforcement and investigation powers and what were the compelling reasons to make this change?
Have the IMDA or the Police had to use without-warrant powers in the past? If not, why are these powers, including the use of reasonable force in obtaining entry, necessary? Can the Ministry clarify under what types of offences does the power of searching without warrant and to enter, search and seize evidence come into force?
In the case where the offence is the illegal distribution of film, will items such as film-making equipment – because by nature filming is not an offence under the FA; only distribution is – or non-relevant items like handphones, computers, which are not related to the distribution and storage of evidence, be seized too? What is the recourse for those affected in view of privacy concerns that personal and private content may be searched through by the authorities?
What kind of processes does the IMDA put in place to ensure proper checks and balances when enforcement officers carry out enforcement activities, especially for entry and seizure without warrant? In particular, for new enforcement officers who may have very little, or any relevant experience, what are the safeguards in place when they carry out the above activities?
We have to assure the public that the processes are in place to prevent abuse of authority. For one we need to ensure the accountability of the enforcement officers’ actions and that the enforcement powers are exercised judiciously. For instance, all entry and search will be authorised by senior IMDA officers holding title of Director or equivalent.
What are the training and internal processes in place to ensure that the IMDA enforcement officers exercise the without-warrant powers and forced entry appropriately? With that, Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the Bill.
IMDA sought consultation last year with the film community. I thank IMDA for going all out in that concerted effort even before the amendment was being put out, extending the consultation deadline and that was very helpful. With that, during the consultation, the film community has put out a position paper whereby 48 film-makers and half of them well-known film-makers, have raised their concerns.
So, in my speech I would address some of these concerns that were put up by the film-makers which also was addressed by my colleague, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, just now. Some will seem repetitive, so do bear with me.
Under the proposed section 16, a film that is, amongst others, “against national security” or that “contains any material prescribed”, will be refused classification. I note that there is no specification of what is the definition of “material prescribed” nor is there a definition of what is “against national security”.
Having spoken to some film-makers, they have expressed concerns that the lack of clarity of the above terms may have the unintended effect of restricting and impeding how to produce their films, since they do not know whether the content of their films may have crossed the boundaries, such that it becomes against national security, and, therefore, refused a classification. In turn, this may cause the film industry to self-censor on the kind of films that they may produce.
I therefore hope the Minister can provide some clarification or guidelines, as to what constitutes a film that contains “material prescribed”, or one that is “against national security”. On the definition of “national security”, I note that it is not impossible to provide some clarity on its contours.
Take, for example, the Public Order and Special Powers Bill that we debated just now, the Bill has specifically set out several situations that constitute "serious incident" that may affect public order and security.
Further, under the proposed section 15(5), the provision sets out several guidelines as to what will be taken into consideration in classifying a film. Although section 15(5) does not strictly relate to issues of “national security” or “prescribed materials”, it does show that it is possible, at the very least, to provide examples of what would be taken into account in reaching a particular classification decision.
Even if it is not possible give a clear definition of what constitutes “prescribed materials” or what is “against national security”, at the very least, the Minister can set out what it will take into consideration in determining whether a film is against national security or contains those prescribed materials.
Such clarity is important to ensure a creative environment in which the film industry will not be inhibited by unknown legal perimeters and to cultivate an environment that encourages diverse narratives and perspectives to be explored through the films. I agree with the Minister that actually films talk about what we are and who we are and are important culture tenets of this society.
On a related note, as regards to the proposed section 16 which permits the Minister to refuse classification, I would like to clarify whether this means that the Minister would refuse classification of a film that falls under the proposed section 16, or does it mean that such a film will be given a “refused classification” rating? Again, I think the way we put the terminology becomes very important so that it would not cause confusion.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am also concerned about the introduction of a co-classification scheme. This convenience has been welcomed by the businesses, mostly by the distributors, as it shortens the processing time when they can classify their own PG or PG13 films, instead of waiting on the IMDA classification division. However, the film community is not just made up of these distributors. In fact the scheme may not benefit film makers or consumers.
As it is now, in Singapore, some production companies are also distributors. One of them has just bought over even a cinema chain. So, a three-in-one production company, distributor and exhibitor. With so many interests at stake, it could be a case whereby interventions can happen even at the creative process, as early as scripting stage, editing stage to cut out more, in order to feed lower age-restriction ratings, and in this equal system, the film-makers may find themselves in a disadvantageous position with lesser bargaining power and have to compromise their artistic vision.
Creators should be allowed to make works that can best express their stories and engage consumers and leave the regulatory and censorship monitoring to the authorities and be allowed to appeal if they think an age-restriction rating is too strict.
But, as we can see in several cases, the consumers are not well-served by this amendment, and can, in fact, be short-changed by this. This is because distributors are incentivised to cut out shots to achieve a lower age-restriction rating, and hence, reach possibly larger audiences. But consumers may not be fully informed on what they are missing, even when they are still paying for full-price admission.
The fact that the film has been censored, is usually not advertised on the promotional collaterals put out by the distributors and cinema operators. So, a rating that is displayed at the box office where consumers buy their tickets, would usually be stated simply, just as PG13, but in fact, certain scenes may have been taken away. Instead, may be it should be accurately reflected as "PG13 [EDITED]".
I want to now turn to the proposed sections 34 and 34A of the Bill which confers IMDA enforcement officers with intrusive and excessive powers. Under the proposed section 34 that is read with section 34A, enforcement officers are given over-arching powers, such as being permitted to enter a place “using such force as is reasonably necessary to obtain entry”, or to seize any film, advertisement or equipment that may be evidential material without warrant if the enforcement officers “reasonably suspect” that certain offences have been committed.
Fundamentally, I believe that such sweeping and intrusive powers should only be granted to the Police who are the custodians of law and order. Moreover, I am concerned whether we are giving too much powers to enforcement officers who, as compared to our police, might not have the operational experience and expertise to effectively discharge such powers.
I further note that under proposed section 34(11), an enforcement officer may be assisted by other individuals in exercising enforcement powers under this Act. It is not clear from this section who such “other individuals” refer to, nor are such “other individuals” defined under the Bill. Can the Minister clarify who these “other individuals” refer to?
Do such “other individuals” refer to IMDA licensing officers and/or classification officers or are they non-IMDA officers? What are the situations which the Minister would envisage the assistance of such other individuals, and can the Minister clarify what are the powers which such individuals can exercise while assisting enforcement officers in discharging their duties under the Act?
Apart from the fact that the enforcement and police officers are exercising sweeping powers, I am concerned that such powers may be exercised without a warrant under section 34A(2) if such officers suspect that certain offences under the act are committed.
I note that under the Criminal Procedure Code, a police may exercise its power search and seizure only when an arrestable offence is committed. Some examples of an arrestable offence under our Penal Code include rioting and voluntarily causing grievous hurt. I note that the offences under the Films Act are nowhere as severe or violent as the examples of arrestable offences which I have just cited. Moreover, there is nothing in the the Films Act nor in the amendments to this bill, which provides that the offences under the act are arrestable.
I would like, therefore, to understand why, despite the fact that the offences under the Act are non-arrestable, and, despite the fact that these offences are not as severe as arrestable offences, then why enforcement officers and the police are permitted to search and seize without warrant.
Moreover, what I feel is particularly egregious is the fact that an enforcement officer may exercise such intrusive powers without warrant, powers that are traditionally within the purview of the police. In addition, I would like to understand what prompted the government to provide for such as devolution of powers from the police to enforcement officers and to potentially other undefined individuals?
In this Bill, the expanding search and seize powers allows for IMDA enforcement officers to break into any venue to collect any "evidential materials" as well as "not evidential materials" that they happen to take. We must be reminded that what they can seize, now are not just DVDs or film reels, but now also include personal digital devices including mobile phones, personal tablets, laptops, computers, and any type of storage devices including thumbdrives, which will now be materials that can be seized for prosecution. How do we ensure that the enforcement officer will not be over-zealous in their search for evidence such that the privacy of individuals are not infringed?
I turn to the next area of concern, which is to ensure due-process and fairness in the appeal process. I am rather concerned that neither the Films Act nor the amendment provides that the appellant appealing a decision is guaranteed the right to be heard by either the Committee of Appeal or the Minister.
With regard to appealing a decision which is to be heard by a Minister, the proposed 24A(3)(b) merely states that the Minister may consult any person before making his decision regarding the appeal. With regard to the appeal to be heard by the Committee of Appeal under the proposed section 24, the said section did not provide that the applicant has the right to be heard by the Committee.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as a matter of ensuring due process and fairness, it is important that such an applicant has the right to be heard by the relevant appellant body, so that such an applicant has the opportunity to make his or her case personally, if any.
As I understand it, the current practice is that the Films Appeal Committee does give an aggrieved individual, who is appealing a decision of IMDA, the right to be heard. However, unless the right to be heard is legislated under the Film Act, there is simply no guarantee such a practice will continue.
Another concern that I have with the appeal process, is with the composition of the Films Appeal Committee. Clause 12 of the Bill which provides for the constitution of the Committee of Appeal, only provides that the number of members is of, at least 15, but not more than 21 members.
Mr Deputy Speaker, in a submission made by a group of filmmakers during the public consultation, they have recommended that the Committee of Appeal be made up of more individuals from the film industry to be appointed to the committee. Presently, only one out of the 15 members of the committee is from the film industry. I also note that the present committee comprises of a few civil servants, school principals, professors, as well as lawyers.
However, given that the Committee of Appeal will be dealing with appeal matters concerning appeals from filmmakers, I feel that having more members from the film industry will be beneficial to the committee, in terms of the relevant experience and expertise that members of the film industry can contribute.
To quote from one of the film-makers in one of the discussion I have with her: "we, in the film community, do have valuable professional perspectives to contribute, as well as feedback rooted in civic and consumer rights".
I understand that the appointment of the present Committee will end by June 2019. I hope to understand from the Minister whether he would take into consideration to have a more diverse selection of members of the committee, including those from the film industry, when appointing the next Committee.
I have one more clarification that I hope the Minister can address. I note that the proposed section 24 and 24A of the Bill is silent as to whether the Applicant making the appeal, will be provided the grounds of decision made by either the Committee of Appeal or the Minister. As a matter of ensuring due process and in fairness to the Applicant, he or she should be aware of the basis on which his or her appeal is either upheld or dismissed. Further, providing the grounds of decision also ensures that the decision-maker is held accountable.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will turn to the last area of concern pertaining to the continued criminalisation of the making and reproduction of party political films under section 33 of the Films Act. I know that this has not been put up for amendment in this particular Bill.
However, it is stated clearly in the Explanatory Statement that one of the purposes of this present amendment to the Films Act is for "excluding private exhibition, and the making and the reproduction of films". In paragraph 2.15 of the IMDA’s public consultation paper, it is stated that, I quote, "MCI/IMDA would like to clarify that the primary regulatory focus of the Films Act remains on the distribution and public exhibition of the films, as these activities have wider and more direct impact on consumers" – which was reiterated by the Minister earlier.
It is clear from the above that private viewing of a film is not sought to be criminalised. However, if a person makes a party political film for the sole purpose of viewing it by him or herself without any intention of publishing or distributing such a film, would such a person be criminally liable?
To put it in context, take, for example, an individual who video-records a political rally. The person then edits the video with a video-editing app by ending in some music and politically motivated slogans for his own personal viewing, or just to share this edited video privately with some of his friends. If I am not mistaken, such a video may fall under the definition of a film provided under the proposed section 3 of the Bill, and may constitute a party political film under the present section 2 of the Films Act. It seems disproportionate that such an individual may be criminally liable for the making of such a video under section 33(b) of the present Films Act.
I therefore hope that the Minister can consider also amending section 33 (b) of the present Films Act to address the disparity in the standards, where the making and reproduction of party political films are criminalised, but the making and reproduction of non-party political films are not criminalised under the new amendments.
That said, I again would like to thank the Ministry for being very responsive throughout the public consultation period, and for taking seriously, consideration of the feedback it received, and also have to reconsider and amend certain parts of the amendment Bill in light of the feedback it received.
Now, with regard to my own fundamental position on one of the important amendments to this Bill – which is about the co-classification. In 2014, IMDA actually wanted to propose a similar scheme for the Arts Sector. The Term Licensing Scheme was proposed for arts groups to be able to have their own content assessors to help co-classify productions. This was rejected by the Arts community, myself being one of them.
One of the fundamental issues I have with this co-classification scheme is this: that the censorship and regulation guidelines are set up by the authority, and hence, it should be the job of the authority to man the gates, but for artists to submit it so that the authority can decide whether they want it, and whether they will classify it or not classify it.
Mr Kok Heng Leun: So, in light of those concerns, I am, at the moment, not really sure if I can support this particular Act because there is a difference between classification and censorship. And in this case, I would not say that there is no censorship. There is classification, but censorship do prevail and that is something that I, as an art maker, fundamentally feel is a problem. Thank you very much.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the review of the Films Act that started in September 2016 and ending with these proposed amendments was much needed. Market, societal and technological developments have changed videography and the consumption of films since the Films Act was last amended in 2009.
Several of the moves contained in these amendments should be welcomed for liberalising the media field, and in effect, encouraging the development of a vibrant media industry. Dissolving the Board of Film Censors and formalising the Co-Classification Scheme would help further shift the paradigm from knee-jerk censorship to age-appropriate classification.
Amending the licensing framework to exclude private exhibition and the making and reproduction of films recognises the maturity of our society and the media industry. It recognises that our citizens are more than able to make value judgements on what they watch and are not simpletons prone to being brainwashed and losing their moral compass.
I would like to bring up three issues with the review and the Bill. These are: one, keeping up to date with technology and social norms; two, the question of public interest; three, the regulatory risk of raids and seizures.
Let me begin with the first issue, keeping up to date with technology and social norms. The amendments contained in this Bill seek to update definitions and regulations so that they match the current common uses of media technology. Even the word, “film”, has a new definition to keep up with the watching of films on mobile devices and through online streaming.
The problem is that the Bill is still very focused on the term "exhibit" as the main activity that it seeks to heavily regulate. The expanded definition of "exhibit" in the Bill means "to display, screen or project the contents contained in the film in order that another individual may see it (regardless of the manner of the film’s reception)". The definition of "film" is very broad, referring not just to a cinematograph film, but any video recording or any form of recording with a moving visual image, including computer-generated image.
This covers a whole range of activities that does not fit the common sense of the word, "exhibit". In the explanatory statement of the Bill, "exhibit" is said to include "showing to any other individual content comprising, wholly or in part, moving images received on a computer monitor, television screen, mobile device or similar medium equipment appropriate for receiving that content, and where the delivery of the content is by a broadcasting service, telecommunications or other electronic transmission". It is also said, "But an individual will not be regarded as exhibiting a film if the individual is watching a film alone and in private".
Given that a lot of people consume and share video recordings of one kind or another on their mobile devices on a daily basis, it would be good for the Minister to clarify the limits of "exhibit". Would someone watching a film on his or her laptop or mobile device in a public place, where it is inevitable others standing or sitting close by would also watch the film, be exhibiting a film? Would someone who shares a video recording with friends through Whatsapp or Facebook be exhibiting a film?
This is important because such a wide definition can have a chilling effect on public discourse. In the Closing Note to the public consultation on the Bill, MCI/IMDA said that three things are sensitive subject matters: race, religion, or politics. I strongly believe it is important to safeguard our racial and religious harmony and national security. However, to mark race, religion and politics as sensitive subject matters in themselves is to send mixed signals. Social norms have been evolving and Singaporeans seem prepared to discuss race, religion and politics more openly now in a civil manner.
For many decades, Singaporeans have been told that we should avoid discussions of issues related to race and religion because these are sensitive and explosive. Representations of race and religion in Singapore films tend to fall back on safe caricatures and common stereotypes. This does not help in encouraging mutual understanding and respect and may even reinforce racial and religious prejudices. In fact, it is for this very reason that MCCY supported BRIDGE, partnering community groups in providing safe spaces to frankly discuss topics related to race and religion to strengthen our social fabric.
At the launch in March 2017 of BRIDGE, a documentary film titled "Jihad Selfie" was shown to over 120 religious and community leaders, who then discussed the complexities of extremist self-radicalisation.
This demonstrates that films and the exhibition of films have an important role to play in building and shoring up our multiracialism and multiculturalism. Difficult topics on race and religion should not be avoided by content producers, film makers, and civil society and community groups. It would be to our benefit that safe spaces, such as those supported by BRIDGE, could multiply through our society and without having to always depend on the Government’s oversight.
It is important that the Government continue to safeguard racial and religious harmony, so there must be a balance. Would the Minister clarify how IMDA intends to achieve this balance in the new licensing and classification regime?
Let me move on now to the second issue – the question of public interest that is to be safeguarded by the Government. In MCI’s Closing Note, it is stated that the Ministry seeks "to encourage the development of a vibrant media industry, while ensuring that the content does not undermine Singapore’s racial and religious harmony, national security or the public interest".
I think it is clear that it is crucial for racial and religious harmony and national security to be safeguarded by the Government. But "public interest" is a vague term, much like "exhibit", which when unlimited in meaning would give IMDA draconian powers to ban any film or video recording it deems as against "public interest". If the term refers to social norms concerning sexuality and sexual identities, then it should be clearly stated as such. Would the Minister clarify what does "public interest" mainly refer to? Is it politics?
I am asking this because MCI/IMDA said in the Closing Note that politics is a sensitive subject matter on par with race and religion. I think this is a terribly outdated view, especially when the Government has been trying to encourage a more engaged citizenry and greater public understanding of our political system and sense of history.
The SG50 commemorations and the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew appear to be watershed events in this regard, with a more politically conscious public interested in how the country could and should be run in the context of global trends and world events.
MCI/IMDA also said in the Closing Note that "social norms could evolve such that lower ratings become more appropriate". I think our social norms regarding political discussion and expression have evolved. The definition of Party Political Film (PPF) was amended to allow for greater responsible and reasonable discussion of politics in 2009 after the PPF was first regulated in 1998.
Almost 10 years now, from 2009, the absence of an update is conspicuous. I would like to ask the Minister: did MCI/IMDA look into whether social norms regarding politics in films have further evolved since 2009?
Other than politics, there have been a greater interest in different interpretations of Singapore's history in recent years. It would be good for the country if we could depoliticise history and open the history to multiple but fair interpretations of it. There is no doubt that the events in the 1950s and 1960s are very important for understanding how we have become who we are. It is because they are very important that they should be divorced from the politics of today. The politics in the past should not be conflated with the politics of today. It was a different context with different actors then.
For our sense of history to be credible and our national identity to be deep and authentic, there is a need for society to discuss, debate and understand the different aspects and perspectives of this history. Only then can we truly appreciate why different actors did the things they did without excusing or glorifying them. A balanced view of history results not from monotonous stories reflecting some kind of officially sanctioned history, but from many fair and honest stories told from multiple perspectives.
I come now to the third and last issue of IMDA having powers to do raids and seizures. When the amendment Bill was first put out for public consultation last December, it raised concerns from the public that IMDA officers would have too much powers and that the exercise of these powers would erode public confidence in the regulation regime for films. It is good that MCI/IMDA responded to the public uproar by extending the public consultation period and refining the amendments to clarify the powers of entry and search without warrant.
The powers of IMDA officers to enter, search and seize without warrant are now made an exception in the new section 34A. Officers can only exercise the exceptional powers to conduct search and seizure without warrant in two situations: the first situation is that they suspect on reasonable grounds that one of the more serious offences has been or is being committed; and the second situation is that they have a reasonable cause to believe that evidence of the offence can be found in the place and it is necessary to secure the evidence immediately.
Though now circumscribed, these powers are still very expansive, and if used in a heavy-handed manner and liberally, would erode public confidence in the regulation regime for films and thus negatively affect the development of the media industry. I would like to ask the Minister three questions in this regard.
First, would the Minister clarify that these powers would indeed be used in the spirit of exception, as a "nuclear option" of last resort when speed is of the essence in securing evidence of the offence committed?
Second, would the Minister clarify if the reasonable grounds of suspicion of the commission of offence and the reasonable cause of belief that evidence can be found and need to be secured, would be set out to the person or persons affected by the search and seizure so that they could challenge the seizure in court within 48 hours if they deem the seizure unreasonable?
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, several of the moves contained in these amendments should be welcomed for liberalising the media field and encouraging the development of the media industry. The Government must, however, ensure that the enhanced regulation regime does not cause a chilling effect on the media field or erode public confidence in the regulation process. Clarifications are needed in this respect with regards to the definition of "exhibit" and the approach to regulating films containing the subject matters of race, religion and politics. There is also a need to exercise the powers to search and seize without warrant with extreme care, as these pose a major regulatory risk – one wrong move could backfire on the development of a vibrant media industry.
In closing, I would like to leave behind one word. The word is "gingerly", as I hope the Government would regulate films "gingerly". Today, "gingerly" means "extremely cautiously", but I also like the old meanings of "delicately and elegantly" that are not altogether lost in the word. I hope IMDA would regulate films, especially films produced by our budding local directors, extremely cautiously and also delicately and elegantly.
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Sir, my parents and my sister played the most important role in developing my values and instilling in me a sense of compassion, honesty and integrity. And it was my late Daddy who always taught me to speak up, to question, to always focus on solutions and to try my best, no matter what.
At 14, I watched a documentary, or film called "Gorillas in the Mist" that told the true life story of Dian Fossey, an American lady who gave up her good life in America to go to Africa to study and save gorillas.
That movie single-handedly changed my life and probably my Mommy's too. I watched that movie with her and halfway through I turned to her and said, "Mommy, I want to be just like Dian once I grow up". Mommy freaked out at the end of the movie because Dian was murdered by the poachers and she thought this was probably what her son wanted to do.
And so the amendments we are proposing today will not only have an impact on just the films industry, but on all of us, on our society because ultimately, we are not just what we eat but what we watch.
Sir, in drafting my speech for this Bill, I met up with filmmakers and they have some concerns about the effect of the proposed amendments. I do believe I met up the same filmmakers that Member Kok Heng Leun met as well because some of the clarifications that I will say will be similar to his.
Films with their transformative powers are a crucial part of our nation's arts and culture. It is important to protect the ability of filmmakers to tell their stories openly, honestly and with integrity, and to preserve the right of audiences to enjoy those stories. But at the same time, there is also a need to have regulations in place.
Before raising my questions for clarifications, I would first like to commend IMDA for engaging with the filmmakers and the public in their review of the Films Act, which started in May last year and involved several meetings.
The filmmakers that I met highlighted to me several changes in the final Bill that resulted from IMDA's consultation process on the Bill. This is a good example of how the public can be constructively engaged in the law-making process.
Sir, allow me to now seek some clarifications. The new sections 24 to 27 set out the appeals process for classification decisions, for which there are two appellate authorities – a Committee of Appeal and the Minister.
Will this positive practice be maintained and will filmmakers continue to have the opportunity to present their case before the Committee of Appeal and/or the Minister in an appeal against a classification decision?
While there is no guarantee of such a right to audience even under the current Films Act, the opportunity to be heard is an important procedural safeguard. Further, would the minutes of the Committee of Appeal's deliberations on a classification and grounds for decision on the appeal be published?
Next, I do welcome the new section 25, which will increase the number of members sitting on the Committee of Appeal, which may provide for greater diversity of views. Can I check with Minister, if we will be including more members of the film community and civil society who can provide professional perspectives and feedback reflecting civic and consumer concerns?
Next, under section 16, IMDA may refuse to classify films in five stated categories. Can the Minister clarify how the proposed category of "Refused Classification" differs from the current rating of "Not Allowed for All Ratings"? Filmmakers also wanted clarifications that the Board of Film Censors will watch and assess the films that is subsequently deemed to be "Refused Classification" notwithstanding the language, which may be understood as suggesting that the film will not be reviewed at all?
I would also like to seek further clarification on the scope of those categories. Can the Minister clarify what would constitute a "prohibited film" and "a film against national security" respectively?
Can the Minister also shed some light on the type of films that might be refused classification under the catch-all provision "contains any material prescribed" that is not currently already covered by the first four categories?
Further, what is the rationale behind providing for such powers to deal with matters of national security under the Films Act when there are other legislation such as the Penal Code, the ISA, and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act that deal with matters that might threaten national security?
Can I also find out if we will be publishing reasons and basis for classification decisions by IMDA and registered film content assessors, clearly communicating the grounds for decisions ensures accountability and transparency.
The Bill also introduces a new co-classification scheme, which has been welcomed by distributors as it shortens the processing time for classifications. However, one concern raised by filmmakers is that an external film content assessor hired by the distributors may be incentivised to cut out shots to achieve lower age-restriction ratings.
Film reviewers would have reviewed and recommended the uncut version, while audiences only see the cut version and may not be aware of what they have missed out, since the full advisory is only available on the IMDA online classification database.
Will the Minister consider requiring all films with cuts to be expressly listed and visibly advertised as such so that consumers are not short-changed? This could be done, as suggested earlier, on the classification label that IMDA must issue under section 18(1)(b). For example, a PG13 film could be advertised as PG13 (Edited).
Next, sections 34 and 34A extend certain enforcement powers of an enforcement officer. They are granted special enforcement powers that may be exercised without warrant. Can Minister clarify who will be classified as enforcement officers? Given that these officers will have powers to conduct search and seizure, what kind of training will the officer be required to undergo to ensure that they are able to exercise these extensive powers responsibly? I note the Minister has said they will be trained by MHA. Will guidelines be issued for the exercise of their enforcement powers and will they be publicly available so that members of the public are aware of their rights and available recourse should their personal devices be seized?
Under sections 34 and 34A, enforcement officers will have the power to seize anything, which the officer reasonably suspects is evidential material. Can the Minister provide examples of what can and cannot be seized under this provision given that films do not clearly take the form of just film reels or DVDs as they did in the past, and can now be stored on all kinds of storage devices? This would seem to cover mobile phones, personal tablets, laptops, computers and thumbdrives. The amendments would implicate everyone who owns a camera and storage devices, not just filmmakers. What safeguards are there to ensure that personal materials on the devices seized will not be accessed?
I note that the special enforcement powers of enforcement officers allow them to enter a place "using such force as is reasonably necessary to obtain entry". I understand from speaking with individuals within the film industry that this provision is intended for use against errant distributors. Can the Minister confirm that this is the intention behind this provision? Have there been instances where forced entries have been required in dealing with distributors?
Sir, I can see how powerful films are, how much they have impacted me and how we need regulations in place. I can see how much they have impacted my daughter Ella as well. While she has only watched four films so far, Paddington, Madagascar, The Lion King and Ant Bully. But I am pretty sure that one day Ella too will freak me out while we are watching a film, like how my Mommy was freaked out by me. That, I am not looking forward to.
Sir, I do stand in support of this Bill and I hope that Minister can provide the above clarifications and assurances, which will go a long way in addressing the concerns from members of the public and the films industry.
Sir, I would like to start by commending the Ministry for this review and the proposed amendment of the Film Act. The last major review was in 1998 and in the last 20 years, there have been significant technological and industry developments that warrant amendments to keep the Act relevant. In particular, the amendments will help cater to the advancements brought about by the digital revolution, strengthen the protection of minors, and generally make it easier for businesses to function.
Mr Deputy Speaker, let me now look at some of the key amendments more closely. The first is the class licensing requirement for video games retailers to enhance the protection of minors. As video games have become more sophisticated and include mature content on sex, violence, drugs and retailers should be taken to task if licensing conditions are breached. This amendment will ensure that all retailers will have to comply to licensing conditions like labelling and age checks.
However Mr Deputy Speaker, this amendment only applies to physical copies of video games. Increasingly, I have discovered as a parent of a teenager, children buy their games online. What this means is that platforms like gaming consoles and apps are the most common transaction platforms for upgrades and purchases of new games. Parents' Paypal or credit card accounts are required for such purchases. These payment details are usually stored after the initial purchase, with authorisation necessary for subsequent purchases.
The onus therefore must be on parents to scrutinise the games that their children purchase online and to make sure that the games are suitable for their kids. I know of many parents who, because of their hectic schedules, are happy to approve these purchases without due assessment. I urge parents to monitor their children’s online purchases until such time when laws governing such online purchases are amended to adequately protect minors.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, another amendment that is most welcome is the formalisation of the Co-Classification Scheme for Films. Co-classification of content is not a new phenomenon, and has been tested in several countries and adopted successfully. The IMDA or MDA as it was known then, also successfully piloted a test co-classification scheme in 2011 and classified some 2,300 titles rated PG13 and below.
The scheme, Sir, is a pro-business and consumer move. It is pro-business and driven by the commercial market. Some quarters have commented that co-classification could lead to self-censorship, so that distributors and exhibitors could show the films to a bigger audience. This is not necessarily true as I think we need to give our audiences a little bit more credit. These are commercial decisions and the market tends to regulate itself.
One example is the 2007 film, “Lust, Caution”. The distributor originally wanted to release the film as an edited NC16 version but after public feedback, released the original film under the R21 rating. The distributor decided to show several versions of the film to attract a bigger audience. And in other cases, distributors will tend to have just the one edited version because of cost considerations. Mr Speaker, Sir, this very obviously serves to show that these are decisions best left to the market to decide based on commercial factors.
The co-classification scheme also allows for PG13 and below titles to hit the market more quickly. This is pro-consumer as Singaporean audiences can be the first to watch these films. It has also the desired effect of shortening the window for piracy. This move allows for producers of films and exhibitors to engage in more robust debate about classifications, and this inevitably will build stronger industry capability and better understanding of classification guidelines and processes. Most importantly, Mr Speaker, this scheme is optional – films can still be sent to the IMDA for classification if the distributors want to.
Another important amendment to the Act is the granting of relevant enforcement and investigation powers to the IMDA. There has been understandably a bit of a furore over this proposed amendment. However, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that when it comes to films that could undermine our social fabric, disrupt our racial and religious harmony as well as national security – these investigative and enforcement powers, carried out with discretion and attention to detail, will be a very small price to pay.
What is of most concern for some quarters is the granting of powers to IMDA officers to enter and search premises without warrant and seize equipment, in particular equipment used to procure a livelihood, such as professional cameras used for film-making and also personal equipment such as laptops and phones. The issue here is the possible abuse of power and the privacy of the individuals being searched. There is much concern that the proposed powers of search and entry without warrant could be open to abuse.
Mr Deputy Speaker, while I acknowledge the deep concerns in this area, there is also the argument that the majority of law-abiding Singaporeans, legitimate film-makers and family home movie enthusiasts alike, would have little to fear.
Firstly, how senior are the IMDA officers who will be entrusted with these powers? While I understand that these officers will undergo training with the Home Team, what is the nature and duration of this training?
Secondly, when is an offence considered serious enough for these officers to enter premises and to seize equipment? Is there a process for a senior authority in the Ministry to assess the facts of the case and to authorise the raid?
Thirdly, what is the recourse for people who have been the victim of these raids who may have been wrongly implicated? I hope that the Minister can share these details as they will allay some public fears.
Mr Deputy Speaker, the final amendment I would like to focus on is the strengthening of the classification and appeals process. One suggestion from interest groups is that the Films Appeal Committee be made up of nominees from all its stakeholder groups. This, in my view, could make the regulatory process an arduous one with different interest groups lobbying their representatives to influence the Committee’s decisions. Perhaps a more practical approach would be for the Ministry to consider options that would ensure that the Committee reflects a broad representation of the average Singaporean film audience. This would ensure that any allegations or concerns about the dominance of particular lobby groups or a vocal minority can be addressed. And once these appointments are made, the Ministry should make public the names and the bios of all Committee members.
Another issue that has prompted feedback is the amendment to make the Minister the final authority to hear appeals for films with national security concerns. I am in complete support of this amendment. Given the uniqueness of our social fabric which is dependent on racial harmony, national security could be undermined by films that promote or reflect values and tenets contrary to this. And with the digital disruption upon us, foreign influencers can also target the creative community through funding and other more sophisticated means. I believe that the Minister would be best placed to decide on appeals concerning such films as he will have the entire machinery of the Government’s security agencies to examine the sensitivity of the issues involved. I believe that the Minister will also consult the Films Appeal Committee before making his decision, and this should allay the concerns of the film-making community.
Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, digital technology and the Internet have radically changed the film and media industry by democratising how media is produced, distributed and exhibited and have also altered the way we consume media content.
With funding, and rapid development and growth, Netflix now produces its own films and dramas, which it shows on its own platform, thus completely circumventing traditional distribution and exhibition channels.
In light of such disruptive evolution to the film and media industry, in the light of changing social norms, it is timely that the Government reviews the Films Act to ensure that it remains relevant in the age of digital media. I like to focus on three main areas in my speech.
The first area is the co-classification of films. Section 19 of the Act provides for individuals to be registered as film content assessors (CAs) to administer the classification of films. This provision is in principle a positive one, as it signifies a more collaborative and consultative approach towards film classification.
This should benefit distributors and audiences in the long run because of the wider range of views incorporated as part of the classification process and the increase number of film industry professionals who now have been trained to classify films. However, I do have some clarifications that I hope that the Minister can help me with.
First, while the Act describes the procedures to apply to be a CA, it does not specify the type of qualifications one needs to have before application; and who will approve these applications. I hope that any required qualifications will not be too narrowly defined and approval process not too tightly regulated.
Second, I understand that the CA scheme might not be applied to all categories of films. Could the Minister please explain why that would be so, and if we could work towards eventually allowing CAs to classify films up to a higher classification level, similar to those currently classified by the authorities?
I would also like to ask under what circumstances the authorities would over-ride or re-classify a film already classified by a CA. This topic of re-classification was raised by my colleague, the hon Member Mr Zaqy Mohamad. My concern is that if the authorities were to do this too often, this could result in the public perception that the authorities only prefer CAs to “rubber-stamp” ratings in accordance with the authorities’ pre-approved guidelines and standards.
The second area, Sir, is the appeals process. Any appeals for re-classification are currently being decided by the Films Appeal Committee (FAC). Clause 12 in the Act amends section 25 to modify the composition of this committee. It is encouraging to note that the committee size is no longer fixed at 15 but is now stipulated to comprise between a minimum of 15 members and a maximum of 21, with an appointment period not exceeding a three-year term.
I am supportive of this change as it ensures that the FAC can incorporate more diversity and the FAC gets refreshed on a regular basis. I would like to suggest, however, that the authorities strike a balance between refreshing the FAC too frequently and in ensuring that the FAC retains some level of institutional knowledge about the appeals process.
While such structured refreshment of the FAC ensures that new perspectives are being constantly brought in, I feel that the authorities can consider emulating the practices on corporate boards by renewing the tenure of some members beyond three years, provided that it can justify why the tenure of these members should be extended.
This ensures that there is a good mix and overlap of new members and experienced ones, which will be useful should there be a need to rely on experience and historical knowledge when deciding on appeals.
On this note, could the Minister also shed more light on the composition of the FAC and the process as to how members are selected, and does the Government plan to engage the industry and films community to solicit nominees for the committee? I believe that in drawing some of the FAC members from the industry, this will be critical in ensuring that the committee has the endorsement and support from the community, and also helps strengthen the buy-in for decisions that the FAC would ultimately have to make.
The third area, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, is that of films and national security. We heard this debated in quite a few speeches before mine. Clause 11 introduces a new section 24 to deal with appeals to the Minister against a decision refusing to classify or re-classify a film on the grounds of national security.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I spend more than 20 years in the media and communications industry and I was also a media educator for almost 10 years. As such, I think it is fair to say that I understand the concept of creative freedom in the media and why it is important for us to get the balance right, between allowing space and licence for artistic creativity to grow and blossom but not allowing carte blanche such that anyone can come up with a media product in the name of art or creative freedom that could have a damaging effect on society or on the community.
In my opinion, the Government has been progressive in its attitude and policies towards media over time since I began my career as a media professional in the early 1990s. I believe that things will continue to change both for those who produce media and those who consume it to reflect changing societal norms, consumer tastes and preferences and technological advancements and developments. But these changes need to be calibrated and measured and there are boundaries that should never be crossed.
In a small, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country like Singapore, national security is paramount. While most films do not openly preach violence against the community, we cannot ignore that certain plotlines could contain innuendos that may injure the feelings of some communities, or some films could have thinly veiled messages that are disparaging to a particular religion or could be viewed as legitimising certain extremist views.
As such, I echo the comments that my colleague, the hon Member Mr Ganesh Rajaram made and I am supportive of the Minister having the authority to decide all appeals regarding films with national security concerns. I was also heartened to hear Minister say earlier that he will seek the views and consult the Films Appeals Committee before arriving at a decision. However, I hope that the Minister will be willing to go even one step further and share with the Films Appeal Committee or even the public, the reasons as to why he would have made a particular decision regarding a film that might be deemed as a threat to national security. Such transparency would not only be illuminating, it would also be educational.
While I am supportive of the authority that the Act gives to the Minister, I would like more clarity on the authority that the amendments in section 34A of the Act provides IMDA-appointed enforcement officers.
What training and processes have been put in place to ensure that these officers are equipped with the relevant knowledge to exercise their authority appropriately? And furthermore, how can we integrate this portion of the Act with other national security initiatives or measures that MHA or MINDEF might already have with regard to similar threats to national security from film and media sources?
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, this review of the Films Act is timely in understanding the changing landscape of the film industry, and also helps to better cater to the aspirations and needs of film-makers, producers, distributors, exhibitors, audiences and the wider community and, indeed, my clarifications, notwithstanding, I believe that the changes are largely positive.
Nevertheless, I am aware of the sentiments held by certain members of the film and media industry that the amendments to the Films Act may stifle artistic freedom and creative expression and lead to self-censorship. I believe this was also raised by the hon Member Kok Heng Leun in his speech earlier.
I would like to conclude by presenting the view that it actually takes more creativity and artistic innovation to create works of art that exist within certain parameters and boundaries. In fact, one could make the point that having those boundaries might present certain challenges that would inspire and motivate the artist to achievements that might not have been possible had those boundaries not been there in the first place.
Indeed, legendary award-winning producer and writer Lorne Michaels was quoted as saying: "To me there's no creativity without boundaries. If you're gonna write a sonnet, it's 14 lines, so it's solving the problem within the container". So, in spirit of creativity within the container, I end my speech in support of the Bill.
The Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information (Mr Chee Hong Tat): Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have your permission to join the debate by seeking some clarifications and responding to some of the points made by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh?
Mr Chee Hong Tat: Thank you, Sir. Sir, Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked how MCI intends to achieve a balance between freedom of speech, freedom to discuss issues of race, religion, politics, and safeguarding important values such as racial and religious harmony. He cited a closing note to our public consultation where race, religion, politics were mentioned as sensitive subject matters.
Sir, that section of the note was about co-classification. I first want to confirm with Assoc Prof Daniel Goh if my understanding is correct. That section that he was referring to, refers to co-classification? [The hon Member Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong nodded]
Thank you, Assoc Prof Goh. So, for that section, Sir, we laid out what we want to do to work in partnership with industry and with film content assessors to co-classify films. Minister Yaacob had explained this earlier in his opening speech. We are starting with films up to PG13 to reduce the impact of any misclassification. IMDA is also excluding films with content on race, religion or politics from co-classification. Such content could be sensitive depending on how they are presented. We are hence starting the scheme with other categories of films.
Sir, if I may continue to respond to some of the comments from Assoc Prof Daniel Goh. IMDA has, and will continue to classify films, and provide age-appropriate ratings and consumer advisories so that Singaporeans, both young and old, can made informed viewing choices.
There is no lack of avenues to raise issues and to debate in real life or online in Singapore. This includes the films industry making, viewing and disseminating films with political content under IMDA's classification system.
Our safeguards are intended to protect public interest against egregious content. This is how we have found a balance between freedom of speech, creative expression and safeguarding our collective greater good. There is significant space in between. It is not one or the other, neither "free for all" or "nothing at all".
Sir, Assoc Prof Daniel Goh mentioned about Party Political Films (PPF) under Section 33. Section 33 is intended for PPFs which seek to sensationalise or distort serious issues to evoke emotional, rather than logical debate based on facts. They thereby have the risk of harming our political discourse.
But not all films with political content are PPFs. There are in fact many films that deal with political content and serious issues in ways that inform Singaporeans, that both enrich our media space and our political space. We should not compare PPFs to other films. They are a different category of films given the impact that they could have on the integrity of our elections as well as the broader political discourse in Singapore.
The issue of PPFs is a basic judgement, whether it is better to debate political issues with words and logic, or with images and emotions. Given the harm that PPFs can cause to rational political discourse, we believe there is strong reason and it is prudent to maintain the current provisions against the making of PPFs. And let me assure the House that IMDA will continue to be judicious in administering the provisions.
Sir, Assoc Prof Daniel Goh also mentioned events in the 1950s and 1960s and how they are important for understanding how we have become who we are. I agree with him that is important to know our history. But we also need safeguards to prevent distortion and misrepresentation of facts.
There will be different accounts of the formative events of our nationhood, but there are also basic facts which are not matters of opinion, and which successors and sympathisers of the protagonists at the time are still trying to deny. Not all narratives are equally truthful and valid.
I believe Assoc Prof Daniel Goh may be referring to the two prohibited films under section 35: Zahari's 17 Years and Dr Lim Hock Siew. The two films are prohibited as they gave distorted and misleading portrayals of Dr Lim and Said Zahari's arrest and detention under the ISA in 1963. The two men were involved in communist activities and had posed a threat to the interests and security of Singapore. The films made baseless accusations against the authorities and undermine public confidence in the Government.
This has nothing to do with the politics today. The fight with the communists is over. But the stance we take with regard to these actions by certain individuals in the past, to distort the facts and to use false portrayals to exculpate their guilt, can have an impact on what others may do in the future which could then affect our national security and public safety.
Sir, looking at how far our films and media sectors have come, I believe we can continue to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and protecting the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.
I thank Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Darryl David and Mr Ganesh Rajaram for their support for the scheme. IMDA has been engaging the industry closely, and distributors and exhibitors have expressed support for the scheme. This is because the classification process is faster, and cheaper for participating companies which will only pay a flat fee per film or video title rather than a fee based on the title's duration.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad also asked why IMDA was outsourcing its classification duties. Sir, I wish to clarify that IMDA is not outsourcing its classification duties. Instead, as I have just explained, the co-classification scheme aims to help our films industry to distribute film and video titles more quickly and to save costs. This is one of the ways in which we will develop and grow our films industry.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Darryl David also asked about the potential challenges in implementing the co-classification scheme, and the safeguards in place to address misclassification risks. IMDA, Sir, has considered this carefully.
First, the prospective film Content Assessors (CAs), will be required to attend formal training and pass mandatory tests before qualifying for registration. Film CAs must also fulfil an annual retraining requirement, and when in doubt, they can consult IMDA on a film's appropriate rating. No other strict academic requirements are necessary.
Second, film CAs can only co-classify films up to the PG13 rating. IMDA will continue to classify films that exceed the PG13 rating. IMDA will also classify certain categories of films regardless of rating, such as films intended for film festivals and those that deal with matters of race or religion.
Third, IMDA will conduct regular checks on co-classified film titles and reclassify those that are misclassified. The relevant company will have to replace the classification labels with the right rating and bear the associated costs.
Sir, after the FA is amended, regulatory action can also be taken against the errant film CA. IMDA will carefully consider the facts and circumstances of any case before determining the appropriate step, including whether there is intentional misclassification, the severity of the misclassification, and the film CA's track record. Possible regulatory action includes warnings and financial penalties. The companies involved will also be penalised if they are found to have had a role in the misclassification. However, Sir, all regulatory steps will be administrative, rather than criminal in nature.
As Mr Darryl David said, co-classification is indeed a collaborative effort with the industry, to ensure that films and videos meant for distribution and public exhibition are rated in line with the film classification guidelines. Since the co-classification pilots were launched with video distributors in 2011 and film exhibitors in 2015, IMDA has trained and certified 81 film CAs, and almost all co-classified titles are in line with IMDA's own ratings. Sir, we therefore believe that the industry is ready for the scheme to be formally introduced.
Sir, I would like to reassure Mr Kok Heng Leun that the scheme will also remain optional, so that those who prefer to do so can continue to submit films to IMDA for classification. It is an additional option. Film CAs have to classify the films with reference to the film classification guidelines which is no different from what IMDA does today. The safeguards in place will help to minimise misclassification risks. We do not believe it will stifle the creative space for the industry.
Mr Darryl David also asked why co-classification would only apply to films up to PG13. Sir, I would like to reiterate that we are beginning with co-classification for ratings PG13 and below to reduce the potential impact of any misclassification. We will consider whether to allow co-classification beyond PG13 in time, as the industry grows more familiar with the classification guidelines.
Both Mr Louis Ng and Mr Kok Heng Leun spoke about the prospect of consumers missing the uncut film should film CAs edit films to qualify them for lower ratings, and asked if we could require all edited films to be expressly listed.
Sir, I wish to clarify that this is not a classification issue; it is a commercial one. Decisions on whether to edit a film and what film versions to screen are purely commercial ones made by film distributors or exhibitors. Some do release different versions for different audiences. I thank Mr Ganesh Rajaram for raising the example of the film "Lust, Caution". Another example is the film "Attack on Titan", where two versions were screened in 2015, one rated M18 and the other edited for NC16. In these two cases, the distributor decided to screen different versions, so that the films were viewed more widely. Sir, I think this is the right approach, as the distributors and exhibitors know their customers best and can decide which version of the film is the most commercially viable.
I thank Mr Ganesh Rajaram for his views on the video games class licensing scheme. While it is true that online video games purchases are rising, as Mr Ganesh Rajaram noted, these often require credit card or other online payment methods that might mitigate the risk of underage consumers buying games with mature content without their parents’ consent. However, in contrast with online games, anyone can walk into physical stores and buy age-restricted games today without proving their age. Going forward, the class licence conditions will make clear that retailers must also play their part to protect our minors by ensuring that M18 video games are not sold to underage consumers.
Mr Louis Ng asked what the intent was in regulating the public exhibition of films that are digitally transmitted, and if this amendment would bring the streaming of films under the FA's ambit. Sir, I would like to reassure the Member that the amendments will not affect those who view films in the privacy of their homes. The amendments are to ensure that the public exhibition of films is regulated under the FA whether they are screened from a recording or from a digital transmission. The focus, Sir, is on public exhibition.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked if several scenarios would be considered public exhibition or otherwise. Sir, I believe where such cases arise, IMDA will look at them holistically and consider the facts and circumstances involved. For instance, if you are watching a movie on a mobile device in an MRT station and someone peers over your shoulder to watch the same movie, that, Sir, is not considered public exhibition. That is called being "kay poh".
Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Louis Ng asked about the new terminology, “refused classification”, and whether the film would be viewed by IMDA before making such a decision. The short answer is that this is simply a change in terminology. Today, a film is “Not Allowed for all Ratings” (NAR) when it exceeds the film classification guidelines and is not suitable for distribution and public exhibition. However, it is often not clear to people if NAR is a rating or not. The new term “refused classification” will be more accurate in describing IMDA’s decision to disallow the film for distribution and public exhibition.
So, Sir, there is no change to IMDA’s classification process. IMDA will continue to review the film and provide reasons for its rating or its decision to refuse classification. This would be the same for film CAs. In fact, Section 15 of the Bill requires IMDA to view a film before it decides to refuse classification. IMDA must also give reasons for deciding as such.
Mr Louis Ng and Mr Kok Heng Leun also asked what the films that might be refused classification under Section 16 are, where IMDA will refuse to classify any film that “contains any material prescribed”. This refers to existing film content elements that exceed the R21 rating in the film classification guidelines, for instance, gratuitous depictions of extreme cruelty or content that glorifies substance abuse. Going forward, these elements would be prescribed in regulations, and the provision cited enables it. This will be transparent, as they will need to be published in the Gazette.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Darryl David asked why IMDA needed film reclassification powers, since there is already an existing appeals process for film classification. Sir, with the formalisation of the co-classification scheme, IMDA may need to reclassify films in certain situations, such as where a film CA has misclassified a film. IMDA may also reclassify older films when there are relevant changes to the film classification guidelines, so that their ratings are up to date.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad also asked if there are safeguards in place. Sir, IMDA treats public feedback on film ratings seriously and will give due consideration to the diverse views of our society. IMDA will have to weigh such feedback against the film classification guidelines, which help to ensure consistency in standards applied to all film content. For contentious films, IMDA will also seek the views of the Films Consultative Panel (FCP), which comprises a cross-section of Singaporeans. Sir, IMDA is keenly aware that frequent changes in classification decisions could create uncertainty for the industry and consumers. I would like to reassure Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Darryl David that IMDA will, therefore, reclassify films only after careful consideration. Such decisions by IMDA are also appealable to the FAC.
Sir, on films with national security concerns, let me first thank Mr Ganesh Rajaram, Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Darryl David for their support for this amendment for the Minister to hear appeals involving these films. Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Darryl David as well as Mr Louis Ng and Mr Kok Heng Leun also asked several questions, including what would constitute a film against national security and how the new appeals process for such films would be like.
As I have mentioned earlier, national security is one of the Government’s core responsibilities. We cannot outsource or delegate our responsibility to safeguard the security of Singapore and Singaporeans. Considerations of national security include what would be detrimental to the continued existence of the country, its ability to exercise its sovereign rights, and the safety and security of its citizens and their way of life. In determining whether a film is against national security, IMDA will also consult the relevant security agencies. However, these agencies may face constraints to share the full extent of their security concerns and sensitive information with the FAC, as its members come from non-Government sectors and do not have the necessary security clearances. It will be better for the Minister to decide on such appeals as he will be able to consider the appellant’s view, together with IMDA’s considerations and the detailed assessment from security agencies. The Minister will also consult the FAC for its views before making his decision on the appeal.
We do not disagree with Mr Kok Heng Leun that it would be useful to set out some considerations broadly, which I have done here. But, Sir, given the complex nature of national security matters, the prudent approach would be to avoid binding this in legislation. In refusing classification, let me assure Members again that IMDA has been and will continue to provide grounds for its decisions. Should there be appeals for films with national security concerns, I envisage that we will adopt an appeals process similar to existing Ministerial appeals, where the appellant and IMDA would be given due opportunity to make their respective cases to the Minister via written submissions. Where possible, the Minister will also provide the appellant with the grounds of his decision.
Mr Louis Ng and Mr Darryl David further asked about the rationale for the provisions that deal with films that are against national security, given existing laws, such as the Internal Security Act. Sir, these existing laws serve different purposes. The FA governs the regulation of films, regardless of the content theme or concern. It provides the films industry and the public with a single point of reference and clarity on the regulation of films in Singapore. This is a practical approach, given that any one film can contain multiple content themes or concerns. The FA also allows for a calibrated approach, depending on the nature and gravity of any undesirable content. For instance, films that are refused classification for exceeding classification guidelines are not allowed for distribution and public exhibition, but private viewing is allowed. However, it will also be an offence to possess films that are prohibited under Section 35.
Sir, on the FAC’s composition, Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked how we could make the FAC more representative, while Mr Kok Heng Leun, Mr Louis Ng and Mr Darryl David asked about appointments and if more could be done to appoint members from the films sector or civil society.
Sir, the FAC already comprises individuals from diverse backgrounds, representing our various communities, the creative, legal and education sectors, as well as academia. We agree with Mr Darryl David that experience is important too. There is thus also a mix of newer and more experienced members, so that the FAC brings in new perspectives while maintaining an understanding of past decisions. The appointment process also considers nominations from various community groups, such as Mendaki and SINDA. Sir, we are open to considering individuals from the creative and films sectors, but they should be appointed by the Minister in their own capacity and not as industry nominees. The FAC’s role is to hear appeals involving film classification, which takes reference from our community norms and values. The FAC, therefore, has to reflect the range of perspectives that make up our society.
Mr Louis Ng and Mr Kok Heng Leun asked several questions about the FAC. Sir, I am not able to respond on the FAC’s behalf but I understand that the FAC generally allows appellants to present in person and will also share its grounds for decisions with appellants. So, this is already the case. I also understand that the FAC would consider allowing appellants to present in person, too, before forming its views when it is consulted by the Minister on appeals regarding films with national security concerns.
Sir, Mr Louis Ng and Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh also asked what would constitute a prohibited film. Films are prohibited under section 35 of the FA. It is intended for films with the most egregious content, where even possession of the films would be contrary to public interest. Examples of such content include films that advocate violence or films that threaten racial or religious harmony, the broader fabric of our society or public confidence in our institutions. The Minister will have to exercise his judgement on whether it is necessary to invoke this section, and I think we have been very judicious as pointed out by the Senior Minister of State – we only have two films so far that have been prohibited. This section ensures that we have some safeguards against the most egregious content, to protect larger societal interests, even as we have moved away from censorship towards classification.
Fourth, Sir, I thank all hon Members who spoke about the extension of IMDA’s enforcement and investigation powers. Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked how IMDA has been enforcing against FA offences, given the current gaps in enforcement and investigation powers. Currently, Sir, IMDA seeks the assistance of the Police, for instance, to investigate offences involving unclassified films when they are discovered and seized.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Louis Ng asked if IMDA has used without-warrant powers in the past, including the use of reasonable force to obtain entry, and if extending these powers are really necessary. Mr Kok Heng Leun also asked about the rationale for these powers.
First, I would clarify that without-warrant powers are not new. IMDA already has these powers for some offences, such as those involving unclassified films. IMDA has also been circumspect in invoking these powers. They are meant for serious offences and for situations where IMDA has to act quickly in order to secure evidence. IMDA enforcement officers have entered business premises to seize unclassified films intended for distribution or exhibition. However, people have generally cooperated and allowed access, after IMDA enforcement officers identified themselves. So, IMDA has not had to use forced entry. But these powers are still necessary, as we cannot expect compliance in every instance. IMDA has to be able to respond to a broad range of enforcement scenarios to be able to protect the public interest, but it has been and will continue to be circumspect in invoking these powers.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Kok Heng Leun, Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Ganesh Rajaram, and Mr Darryl David – in fact, everyone who spoke – also asked about IMDA’s enforcement officers – their training, the extent and limit of their powers, and how IMDA would ensure that they exercise their powers responsibly.
Sir, let me begin by thanking those who contributed their views during the public consultation of the Bill. The feedback, in fact, has been very useful. On enforcement, it has helped us to gain better appreciation of the concerns about without-warrant powers for entry, search and seizure. We have made several adjustments.
First, we have limited the extension of powers to serious offences, such as those involving prohibited films and the unlicensed public exhibition of films. I have explained the egregious nature of prohibited films earlier. For unlicensed public exhibition, the risk and the ease of flight is high as an exhibition typically lasts two hours or less. But for less serious offences, a court warrant or permission from the owner will be needed for IMDA to exercise these powers.
Second, we have also limited the exercise of these powers to IMDA’s enforcement officers. These officers currently already have to and will continue to attend and pass the Home Team Investigation Courses where they receive both classroom and practical training alongside Home Team officers in areas, such as (a) powers of entry, search and seizure, (b) collation of evidence, (c) recording of statements, and (d) preparation of investigation reports. There are three phases of training with the Home Team: three weeks of basic training, one week of intermediate training and one week of advanced training, with annual refresher courses for all officers. The enforcement officers are also security-vetted and the majority have prior experience in law enforcement agencies. To Mr Kok Heng Leun’s question of which “other individuals” may assist IMDA officers in exercising the enforcement powers under the Act, this refers to auxiliary police officers and IT forensic engineers. It does not refer to other IMDA officers.
Third, Sir, we have specified in the Bill that without-warrant powers will only be used when the enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that the specified serious offences have been or are being committed, or that evidence of the commission of these offences can be found in the premises and it is necessary to secure it from being concealed, lost or destroyed.
So, I would like to reassure Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Kok Heng Leun and Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh that only items used in the commission of the offences would be seized. What is seized, of course, will depend on the specific offence. For instance, for unlicensed public exhibition, IMDA officers are likely to seize the storage medium where the film is kept but not the projector or the exhibitor’s mobile phone. For distribution of unclassified films, the officers will only seize the copies of films being displayed or intended for distribution, but not personal items, such as the distributor’s mobile phone. During the investigation of seized items, only materials that are relevant to the offence will be flagged as evidence, while the rest will be protected and will not be disclosed. This is similar to conducting a physical search where enforcement officers will have to go through the storage space before extracting what is relevant. IMDA’s interest would only be on materials that serve as evidence. We have also provided an avenue for owners to challenge seizures of their items in court. Generally, IMDA will return seized items after investigations conclude.
Sir, IMDA, as our info-communications media authority, is best-placed to enforce and administer the FA. It has the necessary domain expertise, and its officers also understand and appreciate the work of the media and films industry. Extending IMDA’s powers to close the enforcement and investigative gaps will enable IMDA to administer the Act effectively. It will also allow the Police to focus on the other threats to security and law and order. I believe this approach is in the best interest of both the films industry and Singaporeans.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Ganesh Rajaram and Mr Louis Ng also asked how IMDA will ensure that these powers are exercised responsibly. I would like to assure the Members and Singaporeans that IMDA has put in place robust internal processes.
First, all enforcement activities have to be authorised by suitably senior IMDA officers holding the office of a Director or its equivalent. Verification is done to assess and ascertain the veracity of information received on potential offences committed and/or the identity of the potential offender. Enforcement action will only be authorised if a prima facie case is established. The senior IMDA enforcement officer will also be apprised of the operational plan and the rules of engagement, before any action is taken. I would also like to reassure Mr Rajaram that any person who deliberately gives false information to mislead IMDA to initiate enforcement actions would be committing an offence.
Second, enforcement actions are undertaken by a team of enforcement officers, led by an experienced team leader. New or less experienced officers do not carry out enforcement actions on their own. Team leaders leading enforcement activities have at least five years of enforcement experience.
Third, to safeguard against abuse, each enforcement officer is issued with an authorisation card that is distinct from the general IMDA staff passes. It is spelt out in the Bill that enforcement officers must identify themselves if asked, failing which entry can be refused.
Fourth, an established whistleblowing policy is also in place where members of the public can lodge complaints of abuse. Investigations will be conducted by IMDA's Internal Audit Unit, which is independent of IMDA's regulatory and enforcement divisions. IMDA takes the abuse of enforcement powers very seriously. Depending on the severity of the accusation and the evidence given, IMDA may deploy the accused officer to an administrative post during the investigation. If the allegations are true, internal disciplinary procedures will apply, including the prospect of dismissal.
Mr Kok Heng Leun asked why the making and reproduction of Party Political Films (PPFs) would remain an offence under the FA or, more broadly, why there is no amendment to the PPF provisions. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh also asked about norms regarding politics in films.
Sir, the PPF provisions were introduced in 1998 to keep our political discourse sober and rational. And, Sir, by a quirk of history, I was on the other side of the House debating the same Bill in 1998. 27 February, Sir. The Films Act was then amended in 2009 to exempt and allow political films that are factual and objective and do not dramatise or present a distorted picture.
Sir, we have reviewed the provisions, and are of the view that they remain relevant. As Mr Louis Ng shared that films can be emotive and powerful and shape one's worldview for a long time. It is one thing for "Gorillas in the Mist" to inspire someone to devote his life to animal welfare, but another thing for distorted or sensationalised films to undermine a democracy and alter the course of a country forever.
Film, Sir, is not an ideal medium for political debate. Serious political issues could be sensationalised or distorted to evoke emotional rather than rational reactions. Films do not allow for effective rebuttals and there is a risk that political debates on serious matters could be reduced to a contest where parties and candidates promote themselves, attack others, or mislead voters through slick commercials and slanted presentations. We should thus not compare PPFs to other films. They are a different category of films, given the impact they could have on the integrity of our elections, as well as the broader political discourse.
It is, therefore, prudent to retain the provisions, so that we can continue to ensure that political debates in Singapore remain grounded in fact, for the greater and longer term good of Singapore and Singaporeans.
Nevertheless, Sir, I would like to reassure Mr Kok Heng Leun that IMDA will continue to be judicious in administering these provisions. Should cases like the one Mr Kok Heng Leun described arise, IMDA will look at them holistically and consider the facts and circumstances, including the larger intent behind the PPF provisions, to keep our political debates and broader political discourse sober and rational.
Sir, in conclusion, let me reiterate that this set of amendments will help to update the FA and bring it in line with technological developments and shifts in our films and media environment. Many of the changes in the environment are for the better but there are changes that also pose very real risks for us. We are still a city-state with different races and religious groups living closely together on a small, dense island. We believe that the amendments are a right step towards finding a course in an increasingly connected and complex media landscape. Sir, I beg to move.
Mr Kok Heng Leun: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am actually responding to my hon colleague Mr Darryl David talking just now about artistic freedom and artists at work. I just want to clarify that most artists do not make work in order to express artistic freedom. I think artists make work because they pick up on things that they think are of great concern to them. That is why when they bring up something of concern, sometimes it may not fall within the comfort of certain particular groups of the society. And that is where the dialogue happens.
Secondly, it is about the creativity within the container. A lot of the artistic work, while it starts from within the container, the intention is then to re-draw the container or even get out of the container. Kuo Pao Kun would always say, and I paraphrase, "Know the frame where you are in, so that you can break away from the frame to create new possibilities".
The last thing that I would like to address to the Minister is that I really hope that the Minister, whenever there is an appeal, especially for those unclassifiable, that the Minister to see the film-maker face-to-face. I think that will make the appeal process much more genuine and the conversations and dialogues to be much more in-depth.
Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: Sir, on the first point about creativity in a container, I just want to clarify one point. I think in his speech, Mr Kok gave the impression that with co-classification, it will stifle creativity.
Actually, that is not the intent. It is really to allow some distributors to co-classify. But it means that you can also make a film for any of the classification rating that is available out there. The example that I gave and the example that Mr Ganesh Rajaram gave are good examples to demonstrate that film makers can actually make a film from R21 all the way downwards to G, if they want to do so. It is, basically, their choice.
So, I do not think this co-classification scheme that we will introduce after the Act is amended will stifle the creativity of film makers. If anything, from the distributors' point of view, it is a lot more efficient for them to bring their films to the market. But I agree with the hon Member that creativity is important because we want to continue to build our films industry to be dynamic.
On the Member's second point, as mentioned in my reply, the process that we will adopt will follow all other Ministerial appeal processes. Most of the processes, if not all, we will basically deal with the agencies and for the agencies who are involved to give us their submissions. So, I think we will retain that for the moment and we allow it to work out and see how it works and then we will evolve from there and learn from the experience.
So, when you said the phrase about race, religion and politics being taken, you know, that they are not sensitive subject matters because you are taking it out of context from it being put in the closing note on co-classification. So, would the Senior Minister of State, therefore, agree with me that these subject matters are therefore not sensitive in themselves and Singaporeans therefore should be more open to discussing them in a civil matter, of course, in safe spaces? And a film-maker should be encouraged actually to produce content so that they can spark off discussions amongst Singaporeans about these subject matters. So, they are not sensitive in themselves. That is the first clarification.
The second clarification is on prohibited films. I did not mention those two prohibited films because I have not watched them because they are prohibited. And that is precisely the problem, I think, because I would have wanted to watch them to make the judgement myself that, you know, these films are not good because they promote violence and so on and so forth, to overthrow the Government, and so on. But the problem is precisely that censorship has alerted me to these films. And that is how I knew about these two films. The publicity that surrounds the prohibition, the censorship and the banning of these films actually attracted me to these films. That is what some of the practitioners would call the Streisand effect.
So, has IMDA looked into this Streisand effect and see whether the banning of these two films actually helped to encourage and attracted more people to go and look for these films and to watch them and, therefore, we have the unintended consequences of actually promoting these films more than prohibiting them?
Mr Chee Hong Tat: Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Assoc Prof Daniel Goh for his clarifications. The first point, I do not think I said that race, religion and politics are not sensitive issues. I think what I clarified earlier was that I asked Assoc Prof Goh whether he was referring to the closing note in which he quoted the remarks from IMDA and MCI, and whether that remark that he was referring to actually came from the section in the closing note touching on co-classification. That was my clarification to Assoc Prof Goh and he has confirmed that was where he saw that phrase. So, I wanted to just put it in context that when we say that race, religion, politics were mentioned as sensitive subject matters, it was in the context of co-classification. We are not opening up this co-classification arrangement to films with content touching on race, religion and politics for a start. That was the basis of my clarification earlier.
The point that Assoc Prof Goh made about then should we have films that touch on race, religion and politics to raise awareness, to generate discussion? I think that was the point that he asked. Certainly, I think we do have many of such films. In fact, not too long ago, our parliamentary colleague, Dr Janil Puthucheary, was involved in two films with Channel NewsAsia touching on race, on religion. And there are many other films by film-makers. Both the film-makers who are working on films with political content, films touching on race, on religion; I think we can find plenty of examples. What I mentioned earlier was that these films are allowed but they will go through IMDA's classification system. Some may be given, depending on the content. So, it is case-by-case.
The second clarification on prohibited films, I think this is why IMDA and MCI, we take a very judicious and careful approach to exercising the powers under section 35 on prohibited films. Every decision that is taken under section 35, something that we have to go through very careful consideration, and it should be used really as a last resort because there are many other ways – through classification, for example – to be able to deal with some of the risks and concerns. But we want to keep section 35 provisions to deal with films with egregious content. So, I want to assure Assoc Prof Goh and the House that these powers will be exercised in a careful and judicious manner.
Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: Sir, I just want to say that our amendments will give greater clarity to the films industry and society and, where there are greater risks involved, IMDA will be empowered to do the necessary.
Certain regulations have not been amended because the fundamental nature of our multi-racial and multi-religious society has not changed. And, indeed, this is something that we want to preserve and protect.
My Ministry and IMDA are confident that these amendments will be a positive move to help film regulations in Singapore evolve with the times, protect our young, provide choices for adults and constructively shape our social development as a nation.
So, I thank all hon Members for their views and their support. As I have mentioned earlier, we will always evolve and we always look for future amendments if we have to do so. But this is always something which is a work-in-progress.