1. Mr Speaker, let me thank all the honourable Members who have spoken. The majority of them have expressed support for the amendments, and raised interesting views and questions.
2. I will address their views in five broad areas.
Formalisation of industry co-classification
3. First, Members spoke about the co-classification scheme.
4. 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.
5. Mr Zaqy Mohamad also asked why IMDA was outsourcing its classification duties. 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 way we develop and grow our films industry.
6. 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 has considered this carefully.
a. First, prospective film Content Assessors, or 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.
b. Second, film CAs can only co-classify films up to the PG13 rating. IMDA will continue to classify films that exceed PG13. 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.
c. 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.
d. 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, all regulatory steps will be administrative, rather than criminal in nature.
7. 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. We therefore believe that the industry is ready for the scheme to be formally introduced.
8. I would also like to reassure Mr Kok 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. Films CAs have to classify the films with reference to the film classification guidelines, which is no different from what IMDA does today.
9. 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 co-classification for ratings – PG13 and below – to reduce the potential impact from any misclassification. We will consider whether to allow co-classification beyond PG13 in time, as the industry grows more familiar with the classification guidelines.
10. 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, but 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. 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.
Revision of licensing and classification scope
11. Second, Members also spoke about the changes in IMDA’s regulatory scope.
12. 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 Rajaram noted, these often require credit card or other online payment methods that 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 under-aged consumers.
13. 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. 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 is on public exhibition.
14. Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh asked if several scenarios would be considered public exhibition or otherwise. 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, this is not considered public exhibition.
15. 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. 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.
16. 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 exceeds 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 be published in the Gazette.
Strengthening of classification and appeals processes
17. Third, Members also commented on the amendments to strengthen the classification and appeals processes.
18. 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. 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.
19. 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 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. IMDA is keenly aware that frequent changes in classification decisions could create uncertainty for the industry and consumers. I would like to assure 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 Films Appeal Committee or FAC.
Appeals to Minister involving films against national security
20. 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.
21. As I 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 views 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.
22. 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 given the complex nature of national security matters, the prudent approach would be to avoid binding this in legislation. In refusing classification, let me reassure 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 grounds of his decision.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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. 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. 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.
Appeals to FAC
26. Mr Louis Ng and Mr Kok Heng Leun asked several questions about the FAC. 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.
27. Mr Louis Ng and Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh also asked what would constitute a prohibited film. Sir, 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 SMS, we had only prohibited two films so far. 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.
Extension of IMDA’s enforcement and investigation powers
28. Fourth, I thank all honourable Members who spoke about the extension of IMDA’s enforcement and investigation powers.
29. Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked how IMDA has been enforcing against FA offences, given the current gaps in enforcement and investigation powers. Currently, IMDA seeks the assistance of the Police, for instance, to investigate offences involving unclassified films when they are discovered and seized.
30. 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 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.
31. Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Kok Heng Leun, Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Ganesh Rajaram, and Mr Darryl David also asked about IMDA’s enforcement officers, their training, the extent and limit of their powers, and how IMDA would ensure they exercise their powers responsibly.
32. Let me begin by thanking those who contributed their views during the public consultation of the Bill. The feedback has been very useful. On enforcement, it has helped us gain better appreciation of the concerns about without-warrant powers for entry, search and seizure. We have made several adjustments.
a. 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 explained the egregious nature of prohibited films earlier. For unlicensed public exhibition, the risk and ease of flight is high as an exhibition typically lasts 2 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.
b. 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 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: 3 weeks of basic training, 1 week of intermediate training and 1 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 on which “other individuals” may assist IMDA enforcement officers in exercising enforcement powers under the Act, this refers to auxiliary police officers and IT forensic engineers. It does not refer to other IMDA officers.
c. Third, 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.
d. I would also 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 offences would be seized. What is seized will depend on the specific offence. For instance, for unlicensed public exhibition, IMDA enforcement 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.
e. These limits and safeguards will be set out clearly in the amended Films Act, which will be publicly available.
33. Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Kok Heng Leun also asked whether we could continue with this current arrangement of relying on the Police in areas where IMDA does not possess the necessary powers. 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 film 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.
34. 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.
a. First, all enforcement activities have to be authorised by suitably senior IMDA enforcement 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.
b. 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 5 years of enforcement experience.
c. Third, to safeguard against abuse, each enforcement officer is issued with an authorisation card that is distinct from 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.
d. 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.
35. Finally, I will address questions raised on issues beyond the scope of the Bill.
Party Political Films
36. Mr Kok Heng Leun asked why the making and reproduction of Party Political Films or 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. By a quirk of history, I was on the other side of the Chamber debating the amendments in 1998, 27 February, Sir. They were then amended in 2009 to exempt and allow political films that are factual and objective, and do not dramatise or present a distorted picture.
37. We have reviewed the provisions, and are of the view that they remain relevant. As Mr Louis Ng shared, 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.
38. Film is not an ideal medium for political debate. Serious political issues could be sensationalised or distorted to evoke emotional rather than rational reactions. Films also 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 broader political discourse.
39. 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, 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.
40. Mr Speaker, in conclusion, let me reiterate that this set of amendments will help to update the Films Act and bring it in line with technological developments and shifts in our films and media environment. Many of the changes 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.
41. Sir, I beg to move.