Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Films (Amendment) Bill
Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Films (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 10/2018]
Sir, my parents and my sister played the most important role in developing my values and instilling in me a sense of compassion, honesty and integrity. And it was my late daddy who always taught me to speak up, to question, to always focus on solutions and to try my best, no matter what.
But films probably played the second most important role in shaping my life, shaping the person I am today.
At 14, I watched a film called “Gorillas in the Mist” which told the true life story of Dian Fossey, an American lady who gave up her good life in America to go to Africa to study and save gorillas.
That movie single-handedly changed my life and probably my mummy’s as well. I watched that movie with her and halfway through I turned to mummy and said I want to be just like Dian once I grow up. Mummy freaked out at the end of the movie because Dian was murdered probably by the poachers and she thought this is what her only son wanted to do.
And I did. I spent the last 17 years of my life protecting animals. Like Dian, I too studied primates, not gorillas but gibbons and thankfully, unlike Dian, I have not been killed. Yet.
Films, continue to shape my life. From the food I eat, to the places I visit and to the father I am today, films continue to play an important role.
And so the amendments we are proposing today will have an impact not just on the films industry, but on all of us, on our society because ultimately, we are not just what we eat but also what we watch.
Sir, in drafting this speech I met up with filmmakers and they have some concerns about the effect of the proposed amendments.
They emphasised to me the need to have checks and balances in the regulatory and enforcement framework.
Films with their transformative power are a crucial part of our nation’s arts and culture. It is important to protect the ability of filmmakers to tell their stories openly, honestly and with integrity, and to preserve the right of audiences to enjoy those stories. But at the same time, there is also a need to have regulations in place.
Positive public engagement
Before raising my questions for clarifications, I would first like to commend IMDA for engaging with filmmakers and the public in their review of the Films Act, which started in May last year and involved several meetings.
The filmmakers that I met highlighted to me several changes in the final Bill that resulted from IMDA’s consultation process on the Bill.
This is a good example of how the public can be constructively engaged in the law-making process.
Clarifications on the appeal process
Sir allow me to now seek some clarifications. The new Sections 24 to 27 set out the appeals process for classification decisions for which there are two appellate authorities – a Committee of Appeal and the Minister.
I understand that presently filmmakers are given the opportunity to present their case before the Films Appeal Committee.
Filmmakers I have spoken with have indicated that this current practice satisfies them that the decision was made in accordance with due process, even if the appeal does not succeed.
Will this positive practice be maintained and will filmmakers continue to have the opportunity to present their case before the Committee of Appeal and/ or the Minister in an appeal against a classification decision?
While there is no guarantee of such a right to audience even under the current Films Act, the opportunity to be heard is an important procedural safeguard.
Further, would the minutes of the Committee of Appeal’s deliberations on a classification and grounds for decision on the appeal, be published?
Similarly, while a decision of a Minister on a matter of national security is deemed to be final, will the Minister be providing reasons for his decision?
Next, I do welcome the new Section 25, which will increase the number of members sitting on the Committee of Appeal, which may provide for greater diversity of views.
Can I check if we will be including more members of the film community and civil society who can provide professional perspectives and feedback reflecting civic and consumer concerns?
Clarifications on the classification scheme
Next under Section 16, IMDA may refuse to classify films in five stated categories. Can the Minister clarify how the proposed category of “Refused Classification” differs from the current rating of “Not Allowed for All Ratings”?
Filmmakers also wanted clarification that the Board of Film Censors will watch and assess the film that is subsequently deemed to be “Refused Classification” notwithstanding the language, which may be understood as suggesting that the film will not be reviewed at all?
I would also like to seek further clarification on the scope of those categories. Can the Minister clarify what would constitute a prohibited film and a film against national security respectively?
Can the Minister also shed some light on the type of films that might be refused classification under the catch-all provision “contains any material prescribed” that is not currently already covered by the first four categories?
Further, what is the rationale behind providing for such powers to deal with matters of national security under the Films Act when there are other legislation such as the Penal Code, the ISA, and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act that deal with matters that might threaten national security?
Next, can I also find out if we will be publishing the reasons and basis of classification decisions by IMDA and registered film content assessors?
Clearly communicating the grounds for decisions ensures accountability and transparency.
The Bill also introduces a new co-classification scheme, which has been welcomed by distributors as it shortens the processing time for classifications.
However, one concern raised by filmmakers is that an external film content assessor hired by the distributors may be incentivised to cut out shots to achieve lower age-restriction ratings.
Film reviewers would have reviewed and recommended the uncut version, while audiences only see the cut version and may not be aware of what they have missed since the full advisory is only available on the IMDA online classification database.
Will the Minister consider requiring all films with cuts to be expressly listed and visibly advertised as such so that consumers are not short-changed?
This could be done on the classification label that IMDA must issue under Section 18(1)(b). For example, a PG13 film could be advertised as PG13 (Edited).
Clarifications on enforcement powers
Next Section 34 and 34A extend certain enforcement powers to an enforcement officer. They are granted special enforcement powers that may be exercised without warrant.
Can the Minister clarify who will be classified as enforcement officers?
Given that the enforcement officers will have the powers to conduct search and seizure, what kind of training will the officer be required to undergo to ensure that they are able to exercise these extensive powers responsibly?
Will guidelines be issued for the exercise of their enforcement powers and will they be made publicly available so that members of the public are aware of their rights and available recourse should their personal devices be seized?
Under Section 34 and 34A, an enforcement officer will have the power to seize anything, which the officer reasonably suspects is evidential material.
Can the Minister provide examples of what can and cannot be seized under this provision given that films do not clearly take the form of just film reels or DVDs as they did in the past but can be stored on all kinds of storage devices?
This would seem to cover mobile phones, personal tablets, laptops, computers, and thumbdrives. The amendments would implicate everyone who owns cameras and storage devices, not just filmmakers. What safeguards are there to ensure that personal materials on the devices seized will not be accessed?
I note that the special enforcement powers of enforcement officers allow them to enter a place “using such force as is reasonably necessary to obtain entry”.
I understand from speaking with individuals within the film industry that this provision is intended for use against errant distributors.
Can the Minister confirm that this is the intention behind this provision? Have there been instances where forced entries have been required in dealing with distributors?
Rationale for regulating film streaming
Finally, what is the intent behind regulating the public exhibition of films via digital transmission? Will the amendments bring the streaming of films under the ambit of the Films Act?
Sir, I can see how powerful films are, how much they have impacted me and how we need regulations in place.
I can see how much they have impacted my daughter Ella as well. Well, she has only watched about four films so far, Paddington, Madagascar, the Lion King and the Ant Bully. But I’m pretty sure that one day Ella too will freak me out while we are watching a film, like how my mummy was freaked out by me. That I’m not looking forward to.
Sir, I do stand in support of this Bill and I hope the Minister can provide the above clarifications and assurances, which will go a long way in addressing the concerns from members of the public and the films industry.