Hong Kong’s chief secretary will be able to retroactively revoke the certification of films based on national security grounds, according to amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance proposed by the government on Tuesday.

Under the planned update, the maximum punishment for anyone who shows an unlicensed movie would be raised to three years of imprisonment and a HK$1 million fine. The bill will be handed to the Legislative Council for its first and second reading next Wednesday.

File photo: Louise Delmotte/HKFP.

The amendments would also “set out explicitly that a censor should consider whether the exhibition of a film would be contrary to the interests of national security.”

In cases of an appeal against a decision made by censors, the Board of Review (Film Censorship) will not be able to review decisions made on national security grounds. However, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said that the decision-making process would still be restricted by judicial reviews.

“Because it is related to national security, we feel that the situation will exceed the areas of the board as they may not have the professional capability to deal with it,” said Yau.

The government also proposed removing the specified number of non-official members in the board.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The bill would also give law enforcement more powers, as permit holders will be asked to provide details of film screenings, such as the date and venue, and inspectors will be allowed to enter and search any locations with a court warrant.

The government updated its guidelines in June allowing censors to pull films they deem to be a violation of the national security law.

‘A sense of vigilance’

Spokesperson for the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers Tin Kai-man told HKFP that the proposed amendments would provide clearer and more specific guidelines, but the industry would need some time to process the amendments.

Tin Kai-man. File photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“There will be a sense of vigilance [within the industry], people will be more careful about potential problems, and have considerations that they might accidentally violate the law,” said Tin.

The spokesperson also said that he guessed that the chief secretary’s powers to revoke permits was the government’s attempt to “fill a loophole.”

“Permits issued in the past do not have an expiry date, meaning that a movie can be screened again after its first screening, but the permit was approved before national security law exists,” said Tin.

“There might be a situation where someone will try to screen an old movie that might be in violation of the national security law, making the government passive and embarrassed in the matter.”

When challenged by HKFP in June, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the decision to censor films and said the move will not stifle creativity among moviemakers.

Lam said Hong Kong enjoys free speech but guidelines on national security were unclear since the security law “was not being fully implemented” with regard to movies.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.