Parliament: New licence scheme for video games and more powers for IMDA officers among changes in Films Act

Retailers can be barred from selling age-restricted video games if they are found to have repeatedly sold them to underage buyers.
Retailers can be barred from selling age-restricted video games if they are found to have repeatedly sold them to underage buyers.

SINGAPORE - Retailers who repeatedly sell physical copies of age-restricted video games to underage buyers will be barred from selling such games under a new law passed by Parliament on Wednesday (March 21).

The duration of the ban will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

This move comes under automatic class licence scheme, which is aimed at protecting the young from inappropriate content as video games become more complex and graphic, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

It is among a slew of amendments to the Films Act that received the nod from Parliament following assurances from Dr Yaacob to MPs that the changes are necessary to keep up with technological and societal changes.

"Our goal is to make the films regulatory regime more business- and consumer-friendly, while ensuring that it remains relevant and effective going forward," he said, when introducing the Film (Amendment) Bill for debate.

Apart from technological development, he noted that a more educated and mature society could lead to shifting definitions of what is deemed as inappropriate content.

Other major changes include an optional but new co-classification scheme that will let some video companies to classify video titles, and an expansion of the enforcement powers of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) officers for serious offences under the Act.

The IMDA will also be given new powers to reclassify films to a higher or lower rating.

Dr Yaacob said this is needed as film classification guidelines are "updated from time to time to reflect our evolving norms and values". Hence, a film with an old classification may qualify for a higher or lower rating today.

Under the optional co-classification scheme, employees from some video companies will be trained to be film content assessors who can classify films up to a PG13 rating, so that titles are made available to people earlier.

This scheme has been piloted since 2011 for video distribution, and since 2015 for film screenings.

Currently, about two-thirds of the more than 7,000 films and videos the IMDA receives for classification every year are PG13 and below.

Those who do not wish to take part in the scheme can continue to submit films to the IMDA for classification, Dr Yaacob added.

Last December, the film community had expressed concerns about the "sweeping and invasive powers" in initial proposals for amending the Act in the planned move to shift enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Act from the police to the IMDA.

Following a public consultation, which garnered 134 submissions, the expanded powers for IMDA officers to enter and search premises without warrant were confined to serious offences, namely, those involving prohibited films and the unlicensed public exhibition of films.

Currently, they can only do so for obscene, party political and unclassified films.

Other new powers for these officers include being able to ask for information and documents needed for investigation, gain access to places where films are publicly exhibited or distributed, and take statements from people as part of an investigation.

These moves will help to close gaps in the enforcement regime, said Dr Yaacob.

Now, despite IMDA having the "requisite expertise" on serious cases involving obscene and unclassified films, these cases have to be handed to the police for investigation, he said.

During the public consultation, there were also concerns that IMDA officers would be inadequately trained to deal with such situations.

Dr Yaacob said the officers will exercise their powers of entering and searching a property without a warrant only when there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the specified offence has taken place, or when it is necessary to get hold of evidence believed to be on the premises that may be concealed, lost or destroyed.

Only IMDA's enforcement officers, trained by the Home Affairs Ministry's Home Team Academy, can carry out such enforcement actions, and owners can also challenge the seizures of their items without a warrant within 48 hours, the minister said.