IMDA spells out its officers' expanded powers

They will apply only to specific offences under Films Act, following public concerns

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 general public.

These offences relate to party political films, and obscene and prohibited films; 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 yesterday, 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 on proposed changes to the Films Act after a public consultation held from Dec 4 to 30, which garnered 134 submissions.

IMDA officers can currently enter premises without a warrant to search for and seize unlawful films, such as obscene and party political films. The initial proposal to shift the enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Act 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 changes - they included prominent directors Anthony Chen, Boo Junfeng, Kirsten Tan, K. Rajagopal, Royston Tan, Jack Neo, Kelvin Tong and Tan Pin Pin.

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

First, it said 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.

IMDA said its officers will exercise their expanded powers only when there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has taken place, or that evidence can be found on the premises. People can also contest the seizure of items without a warrant in court within 48 hours.

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 in the Films Act," IMDA said.

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

IMDA said its officers will exercise their expanded powers only when there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has taken place, or that evidence can be found on the premises. People can also contest the seizure of items without a warrant in court within 48 hours, it said.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'IMDA spells out its officers' expanded powers'. Print Edition | Subscribe