Hong Kong passes new film censorship law to 'safeguard national security'

LOS ANGELES – Hong Kong lawmakers passed an amended law on Wednesday allowing film censorship for national security reasons. It does not cover the online showing of films, although a government minister described this failure as a “loophole”.

The law revision is the latest operation to strengthen state control over civil society and freedom of art and speech in the country.

The city’s Legislative Council – which has no opposing forces – changed the film censorship law by show of hands to give film censors the job of checking content for violations of a draconian national security law drafted and imposed by Beijing in July 2020.

The National Security Act forbids anything that is viewed as or incites secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. According to the film censorship change, offenders showing unauthorized films can face fines of up to USD 129,000 (HKD 1 million) and three years in prison.

Customers browse films on sale in a shop inside a Hong Kong movie theater last month.Isaac Lawrence / AFP via Getty Images

Significantly, the amended law gives the authorities retroactive powers. Films that were previously approved for release can now be banned if they are viewed as glorifying or supportive acts that could endanger national security.

Authorities can search any location showing a movie without searching, including corporate offices or private clubs. The censorship authorities are now free to request further information on certain screenings.

At the legislative session, Hong Kong’s Minister for Trade and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah made it clear that while the new law refers to video, it does not apply to online sales.

“We hope that the bill will go into effect as soon as possible to improve the film censorship system and close the loopholes,” he told the council. “If we were to add online regulation, it would go beyond the original purpose of the regulation, not to mention the technological and enforcement considerations.”

Foreign streaming companies like Disney Plus and Netflix are currently available to viewers in Hong Kong, which traditionally has greater internet freedoms than mainland China. They are taboo in mainland China, which has one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world.

In Hong Kong, the streamers were able to host and in some cases produce content that offends Beijing, such as the Netflix original “Joshua: Teens vs. Superpower”, a documentary about a democracy activist.

Yau tried to assure that most of the films won’t be affected by the new rules. “Our goal is simple and straightforward – it is to improve our film censorship system and to effectively prevent and suppress any action that would compromise national security,” he said.

The Chinese state press widely reported a quote from pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who said she was against films like the 2015 omnibus film “Ten Years,” a burning notion of Hong Kong’s future under Chinese control that was made years before its current one. eerily similar political moment. “Ten Years” is currently available on Netflix in Hong Kong.

The film cannot be shown, Leung said, because “no society in the world welcomes forces that encourage young people to break the law, harbor hatred of their own countries and embrace terrorism.”

“It’s a treacherous climate for companies to make content decisions,” Darrell West, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, told Bloomberg.

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