Films approved earlier can be banned under new law

Authorities would have the power to revoke approval already granted to movies for national security purposes under proposed legislation on film censorship unveiled by the government on Tuesday.

Film censors were ordered in June to ban movies deemed to be supporting or glorifying acts that could endanger national security, and authorities said the proposed Film Censorship (Amendment) Bill would set out the requirement explicitly to provide clear statutory backing.

The proposal would empower the Chief Secretary to direct the Film Censorship Authority to revoke certificates of approval or exemption previously issued for films if they go against national security interests.

“We need this provision to cater for circumstances where a film which was graded or approved before, but given the new law enacted and new guidelines issued, there might be chances that we need to reconsider such cases,” Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said at a press briefing.

Asked if past movies like Ten Years and Her Fatal Ways – which criticised or poked fun at authorities – would be banned in future, Yau said the government does not have a list of banned films yet.

Officials also proposed increasing the maximum penalties for showing unapproved films to three years in jail and a fine of HK$1 million, from one year in jail and a fine of HK$200,000.

The proposal would also strip the Board of Review for Film Censorship of its power to consider appeals regarding films deemed to endanger national security.

Yau said there’s still room for filmmakers to make good movies as the government continues to communicate with the sector.

An academic said the proposed changes will have a far-reaching impact on the film industry and the plan seems to be wider than the film censorship guidelines put in place by the authorities in June.

“The government is trying to close a loophole and adjust the law to support the film censorship guidelines,” said Kristof Van den Troost, an assistant professor at Chinese University’s Centre for China Studies and a researcher on East Asian films.

“What concerns me more is that this law seems to be, at least at first sight, broader than the changes in the guidelines. It could be more far-reaching than the changes that were introduced in June.”

Van den Troost added that it’s a “big change” that in the future filmmakers won’t be able to appeal against the authorities’ decisions, but could only take the matter to court if their movies are banned.

The amendment bill will be tabled at Legco for its first and second reading next Wednesday.