HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities on Friday empowered official film censors to ban the showing of movies which could be perceived as threatening China’s national security.
According to newly published guidelines, censors should be “vigilant to the portrayal, depiction or treatment of any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security … [or] any content of a film which is objectively and reasonably capable of being perceived as endorsing, supporting, promoting, glorifying, encouraging or inciting such act or activity.”
The rules aim to “provide censors with clearer guidelines on film examination and classification,” said a government spokesperson, without offering examples of offending activities.
The government’s move comes just as Hong Kong nears completing a year under a national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in reaction to months of anti-government protests in 2019.
In recent months, officials have moved against perceived security threats in schools, the media and other sectors. The June 4th Museum, which offered exhibits commemorating China’s 1989 crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, was forced to close last week after inspectors cited its lack of a public entertainment license.
Newspapers controlled by the Chinese government have run reports criticizing Hong Kong filmmakers and artists for producing anti-government work and the extension of public arts grants for such projects. Public and private screenings of a number of protest-related documentaries, including “Inside the Red Brick Wall,” have been disrupted by police or other government departments.
Actor and producer Tin Kai-man, perhaps best known for his role in Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer,” told local broadcaster Now TV he found the new rules unclear.
“A crime or gangster film might have some elements like terrorists coming to Hong Kong and committing a crime,” he said. “Are we not allowed to make that kind of film anymore? If someone reads out a script, is it going to endanger national security?”
“The line isn’t clear,” added Tin, who is also the spokesman for the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers. “When people have no clear understanding, we tend to do nothing, which is the safest way. But is it good for the Hong Kong film industry?”
Until now, the Film Censorship Authority in Hong Kong did not censor political content but only depictions of excessive violence, offensive behavior or discriminatory messages.
In 2016, the provocative feature film “Ten Years,” which offered five directors’ dystopian visions of Hong Kong under greater control from Beijing, won best picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Vincent Chui, distributor of “Inside the Red Brick Wall,” told Nikkei Asia recently that he did not know “where the lines are drawn” under the security law. He said the film, which was cleared by the censorship board last year and depicts protesters besieged by police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2019, was “simply a truthful and artful presentation of what actually happened” rather than a political statement.
A government spokesperson on Friday, however, said, “The film censorship regulatory framework is built on the premise of a balance between protection of individual rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the protection of legitimate societal interests on the other.”
“Although fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression in the exhibition of films, should be respected, the exercise of such rights are subject to restrictions provided by law that are necessary for pursuing legitimate aims, such as respecting the rights or reputation of others, and the protection of national security or public order, or public health or morals,” he said.
Additional reporting by Cora Zhu