Filmmakers who signed a position paper urging the government to reconsider the new amendment to the Films Act. (Top: Jonathan Choo, Tan Pin Pin, and Fran Borgia. Bottom: Eva Tang, Sanif Olek, and Kirsten Tan.)

Singapore Arts Community Protests Proposed Changes to Films Act

In Singapore, more than seven hundred cultural figures have signed a petition protesting changes to the Films Act proposed by the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), a government agency that regulates the country’s media sectors, Brady Ng of ArtAsiaPacific reports. If enforced, the changes will allow IMDA officers to enter and inspect properties without a warrant if they have reason to suspect that films that have not been approved by the state are being distributed.

The Strait Times reports that filmmaker Jason Soo launched the petition on December 18, which claims the proposed changes “confer far too much power to IMDA officers.” In response, IMDA said that its officers need to “act quickly to secure evidence of the contraventions while minimizing the chances of the suspected offender fleeing the scene.”

Currently, the agency is already allowed to access premises without a warrant in order to seize films featuring “obscene” content, as well as works related to political parties. However, the new amendment expands the power of the IMDA and will allow them greater freedom to execute searches and seize materials without a warrant.

Soo––whose works include the 1987 documentary Untracing the Conspiracy, featuring interviews with former detainees who were arrested by the government over their alleged involvement in a Marxist conspiracy against the state––also expressed concern about the IMDA acting like police officers. Meanwhile, the agency’s members are not trained as such and “possess no actual experience in managing and de-escalating what could be highly charged and confrontation[al] situations.”

“I can understand the arts community’s concern, should IMDA take over the enforcement authority from the police,” Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, said. “The same level of governance and check-and-balance should be put in place, similar to how the police needs a warrant, before action can be taken. Hopefully, IMDA will look into this deeply.”

The petition was followed by the release of a position paper signed by fifty Singaporean filmmakers calling for the IMDA to reconsider its proposed changes to the Films Act and to extend the consultation period, which was slated to end on December 30, by four more weeks. “This will provide adequate time for members of the public to carefully consider the social and political implications of the proposed amendments,” they said. Singapore’s legislators are expected to debate the IMDA’s proposal in January.