Concern over proposed Films Act change

The proposed change will allow IMDA officers to enter and inspect a property without a warrant when investigating breaches of the Films Act.
The proposed change will allow IMDA officers to enter and inspect a property without a warrant when investigating breaches of the Films Act.PHOTO: ST FILE

Petition started from within arts community against expanding powers of IMDA officers

A petition against a proposed change to the Films Act, which will expand the powers of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) officers, has attracted nearly 400 signatures, many from the arts community.

The proposed change is among several that the agency has put up for public consultation.

It will allow IMDA officers to enter and inspect a property without a warrant when investigating breaches of the Films Act. These include distribution or public exhibition of films that have not been approved. Officers can also seize films and equipment if they are deemed to be evidence of an offence.

Concerned about what he called a potential overreach, film-maker Jason Soo started on Monday a petition against Section 23 of the proposed law. It "confers far too much power" on IMDA officers, he said.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, IMDA yesterday explained the need for the changes, pointing out that its officers "have to act quickly to secure evidence of the contraventions while minimising the chances of the suspected offender fleeing the scene".

Currently, laws allow IMDA officers to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize unlawful films, such as obscene or party political films. For breaches such as the exhibition of a film that has not been approved, police officers can also carry out enforcement and investigations - generally with warrants.

ADDRESSING THE MATTER 

I can understand the arts community's concern, should IMDA take over the enforcement authority from the police. The same level of governance and check and balance should be put in place, similar to how the police need a warrant, before action can be taken.

CHUA CHU KANG GRC MP ZAQY MOHAMAD

With the change, IMDA will take on the enforcement and investigation for cases of public exhibition and distribution of films without licence.

"The police will only be called on when necessary," IMDA said in public consultation documents.

Consultation on the changes began on Dec 4 and was due to end on last Friday, but was extended by a week. IMDA announced a further extension yesterday - to Dec 30.

Other proposed changes to the law include a scheme allowing some video companies to classify video titles, up to the PG13 rating - in line with IMDA guidelines. This is so that content can reach consumers sooner, IMDA added in documents. A similar self-classification scheme for performances came under fire in 2014 for potentially encouraging self-censorship.

Besides Mr Soo, film-makers from the filmcommunitysg group said they will release a position paper on the proposed changes soon. Members of the group include directors Boo Junfeng, Anthony Chen, Tan Pin Pin and Jasmine Ng.

Mr Soo said in the preface to his petition that IMDA officers are not trained and "possess no actual experience in managing and de-escalating what could be highly charged and confrontational situations".

"Such scenarios are best handled by skilled, experienced police officers authorised with a proper warrant," he added.

Addressing concerns about training, IMDA said yesterday that its enforcement officers undergo training in investigation and enforcement. Training courses cover, among other areas: powers of entry, search and seizure, collation of evidence, and effecting arrest.

"The officers are required to ensure that their investigations follow proper and due process fit for court prosecutions," IMDA added.

Film-maker Kirsten Tan, whose debut feature Pop Aye was picked as Singapore's entry to the Academy Awards next year, wrote in a Dec 15 Facebook post: "In theory, with provisions like these, an IMDA officer could enter anyone's home to seize a documentary you are making."

An artist who signed the petition, Mr Ho Rui An, said: "The right to search private property without a warrant goes beyond what is expected of a media regulator."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, said: "I can understand the arts community's concern, should IMDA take over the enforcement authority from the police."

"The same level of governance and check and balance should be put in place, similar to how the police need a warrant, before action can be taken," he said. "Hopefully, IMDA will look into this deeply."

He noted that the changes are not final as they are under consultation.

MP Louis Ng said he plans to raise concerns about overreach and proper training when the Bill is debated next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2017, with the headline 'Concern over proposed Films Act change'. Print Edition | Subscribe