IMDA officers' expanded powers will only apply to specific offences under Films Act

SINGAPORE - A proposed expansion of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) officers' powers will apply only to specific offences under the Films Act, following concerns raised by the film community and the public.

These offences relate to: Party political films, obscene and prohibited films; the distribution and public exhibition of unclassified films; and unlicensed public exhibition of films.

Party political films include advertisements made by, or on behalf of, a political party in Singapore.

"These powers will therefore not apply to other offences under the Films Act," IMDA said on Tuesday (Feb 20), referring to the proposal to allow its officers to enter and search premises without a warrant.

It spelt out these refinements in a closing note to public consultation over proposed changes to the Films Act.

IMDA officers can currently enter premises without a warrant to search for and seize unlawful films, such as obscene or party political films.

Police can also investigate - generally with warrants - breaches like showing an unapproved film.

The initial proposal to shift the enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Acts from the police to IMDA had attracted some concern.

Last December, film-maker Jason Soo started a petition that attracted 750 signatures, many from members of the arts community.

In the same month, 50 local film-makers submitted a position paper calling on the authorities to reconsider its proposed changes - they included prominent directors Anthony Chen, Boo Junfeng, Kirsten Tan, K. Rajagopal, Royston Tan, Jack Neo, Kelvin Tong and Tan Pin Pin.

On Tuesday, IMDA said the proposal to extend its powers was to close two "enforcement gaps", among other reasons.

First, it noted that its enforcement powers do not cover offences related to films prohibited by the Minister on public interest grounds, or the unlicensed public exhibition of films.

Second, IMDA has no powers to require information from people or record statements.

"The provision for investigation powers was to enable IMDA enforcement officers to complete the investigation process for offences under the Films Act," IMDA said.

The authority also highlighted the need to ensure "timely intervention", as evidence can be removed quickly after an offence is committed.

IMDA said its officers will only exercise their expanded powers when there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has taken place, or that evidence can be found in the premises.

People can also contest in court within 48 hours the seizures of items without a warrant, IMDA said.

The authority received 134 submissions during the public consultation from Dec 4 to Dec 30.

Other proposed amendments to the Films Act, such as a new video games class licence, will proceed without substantive changes, IMDA added.

The Films (Amendment) Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the first quarter of the year.