1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second time.
2. The Films Act or FA for short 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.
3. 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.
Changes in the film and media landscape
4. 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.
5. First, our films industry has grown more vibrant. Today, Singapore moviegoers clock more than 20 million visits annually, achieving one of the highest per-capita cinema attendance rates in the world.
6. 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 reality in the US. Video games are also becoming more visually realistic, increasingly featuring mature themes such as violence, gore and sex.
7. 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 spread discord, extremism and hatred as well as information campaigns that seek to interfere in elections or affairs of other countries. While such activities often take the form of tweets and posts, they can also take the form of films. We cannot let them take root here.
8. 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.
9. Mr 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 2016. We 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.
10. Sir, allow me to now go through the key amendments proposed.
Formalisation of industry co-classification for films and videos (Sections 19 to 20C)
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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 market more quickly, thereby benefiting both film exhibitors and distributors as well as consumers.
14. 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.
Revision of licensing and classification scope (Sections 6, 10A, 21 and 35)
15. The second set of amendments seeks to clarify the FA’s regulatory scope in four areas.
16. 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.
17. First, the Act will be amended to reflect IMDA’s focus on the distribution and public exhibition of films. Clauses 7 and 11 therefore clarifies 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.
18. 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.
19. Second, Section 6 will also clarify that a licence is required for the distribution or 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 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.
20. 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.
21. 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 under-age patrons. Since the class licence is automatic, video games retailers need not register, nor will there be licence fees or performance bonds. It would be largely business as usual for these retailers.
Enhancements to classification and appeals processes (Sections 15, 24, 25 and 28)
22. The third set of amendments in clauses 11 and 15 seeks to enhance the classification and appeals processes in five areas, so as to keep up with changing times and evolving societal norms.
23. 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, or FAC in short.
24. Second, a new Section 28 will set out a new right of appeal to the Minister against IMDA’s decisions 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.
25. 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.
26. Fourth, Section 24 will also be amended for appeals against IMDA’s decisions 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.
27. 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.
28. 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. This will allow for greater representation within the FAC and address situations such as appointing new members to fill unexpected vacancies mid-term.
Extension of IMDA’s enforcement and investigation powers (Sections 23, 34, 34A and 11)
29. 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.
30. Besides protecting the young, films are also regulated to ensure that the content does not undermine the social fabric of 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 or 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.
31. 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 2 hours or less, while thumb drives and SD cards, can be quickly and easily disposed of.
32. However, 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.
33. Sections 23, 34 and 34A in Clauses 11 and 20 will address these gaps. These new sections empower IMDA to:
a. 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;
b. Require the attendance of persons for the purpose of investigating breaches and offences under the amended FA;
c. 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.
34. We have also made several adjustments to address public feedback.
a. 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.
b. 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.
c. In addition, all enforcement powers will only be exercised by IMDA’s enforcement officers, who are and will continue to be trained by the Home Team.
d. We have also provided an avenue so that owners can challenge seizures of their items in court within 48 hours of the seizure.
35. 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. I would like to assure the House that IMDA will calibrate its enforcement powers and only use the most intrusive powers when it is absolutely necessary to safeguard public interest.
36. 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.
Other key amendments
37. I will now touch briefly on the fifth and final set of key amendments in the Bill.
38. Clause 2 amends the Act’s long title to reflect the shift from censorship towards classification.
39. 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. There is thus no need to maintain a BFC structure that is distinct from IMDA. There will be no knock-on changes to classification processes.
40. 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.
41. Section 16 is introduced to clarify situations in which a film will be refused classification, after being reviewed by IMDA or the FAC. It entails no change in content standards for films.
42. Sections 22 and 22A empower IMDA to approve or refuse approval of advertisements for films, and sets out the offences involving such advertisements.
43. Section 27 is amended to confine the Minister’s powers to order the FAC to only review films that IMDA has classified. This clarifies the FAC’s role as an appellate body for classification decisions.
44. Section 38 introduces standard provisions so that corporations and unincorporated associations or partnerships are also liable for offences under the FA, not just individuals. Section 38B provides for the composition of less serious offences.
45. Consequential amendments are also made to the Cinematograph Film Hire Duty Act due to the transfer of functions from BFC to IMDA, and the Public Entertainments Act as it has cross-referenced the FA’s definition of “film”.
46. 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.
47. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.