Movie censors given more teeth as videos targeted next

Top News | Michael Shum 28 Oct 2021

Films deemed to undermine national security will be banned under a bill passed overwhelmingly by the Legislative Council - and lawmakers are urging that the clampdown be extended to online videos.

The Film Censorship (Amendment) Bill 2021 passed its second and third readings in 50 minutes yesterday and most lawmakers, using secret ballots, voted in favor with immediate effect.

Under the amended ordinance, movies seen as "contrary to the interests of national security" will be censored and the Film Censorship Authority will be given more legal teeth.

Censors will be required to take national security considerations into account as they vet films before allowing them to be screened in cinemas.

The bill will also grant Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu powers to revoke a earlier approvals if he finds the films to be detrimental to national security.

Offenders will face up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of HK$1 million upon conviction for showing films that have not been approved by the government - from the present one year behind bars and a HK$200,000 fine.

At the last meeting of this term's Legco, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah reassured that the amendment will not affect the normal operations of the film industry.

"I believe the majority of movies will not spark national security considerations, while the government will also set clear legal requirements to help the movie sector adapt with the law amendment, preventing them from accidentally breaching the law," Yau said.

The government will update the guidelines for film censors for the public and the movie sector's reference after the amendments take effect, he added.

In response to lawmakers' call to regulate videos online, Yau said the film censorship ordinance only applies to movies under the definition of "screening."

He added: "We have to carefully and comprehensively study whether or not to extend the coverage of the censorship system. If such changes are to be included in the law amendments this time, it will delay the bill and go over the intention of the amendment."

Supporting the bill was Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who said the government must not oversee the spread of ideas that would hamper national security hidden in movies.

"I watched the movie Ten Years in a cinema and I was shocked as it was filled with hatred against their own country and putonghua, romanticizing behavior like hunger strikes and self-immolation and inciting Hong Kong independence," Leung said.

Michael Luk Chung-hung from the Federation of Trade Unions urged the government to also regulate video streaming platforms.

"The majority of people mainly watch movies through streaming platforms and the internet, so I think these platforms should be regulated as I worry it will be a huge loophole in the future," Luk said.

Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai, director of one of the short stories in Ten Years and Revolution of Our Times, said the amendment did not specify what content constitutes undermining national security and he will keep on with his production.

Political satire works such as Her Fatal Ways and From Beijing With Love and Ten Years as well as documentaries like Lost in the Fumes and Inside the Red Brick Wall have also been criticized by the pro-Beijing camp for breaching the security law.

michael.shum@singtaonewscorp.com



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