Hong Kong to Start Censoring Films on National Security Grounds

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Hong Kong to Start Censoring Films on National Security Grounds” – below is their description.

    Hong Kong is instructing censors to ban any movie that could be seen as endorsing activities that would contravene the national security law imposed by China last year, the latest curb on freedom of expression in the Asian financial hub.

    Hong Kong said it was amending guidelines under the Film Censorship Ordinance to consider the security law — which bars subversion, terrorism, secession and collusion with foreign forces. The rules will determine the suitability of movies planned for public exhibition in the city.

    “One has to accept that rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression, are not without restrictions,” said Chief Executive Carrie Lam. “At the end of the day, some of these individual rights and freedoms have to be restrained by law in order to have a civilized society, in order to have a safe city.”

    Censors should be mindful of their duty to prevent and suppress acts or activities that endanger national security, including anything that threatens the “territorial integrity” of China, the government said.

    “The censor should be vigilant to the portrayal, depiction or treatment of any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security,” it said. That includes “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 new rules are the latest effort to roll back freedoms in the financial center, which is home to the regional headquarters of many international news organizations and is guaranteed freedom of expression under the city’s mini-constitution. Local authorities have also recently moved to restrict access to public information, including the important Companies Registry, and have launched an overhaul of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, which has seen some hard-hitting programs and episodes canceled.

    The new rules instructing censors to block films that could endanger national security use “very vague language” and are open to interpretation, according to Keith Richburg, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center.

    “It’s hard for me to see how a film could endanger the security of any country, but let’s hope these guidelines don’t cause filmmakers or film distributors to begin self-censoring out of fear of crossing the vaguely delineated red lines,” Richburg said.

    Since China imposed the sweeping law on Hong Kong in the wake of unprecedented unrest throughout 2019, authorities have used the legislation to arrest and prosecute dozens of activists, lawyers, former lawmakers and students, mostly for political speech that was deemed subversive. The law has been condemned by western governments, including the U.S. and U.K., and led numerous countries to suspend extradition arrangements with the finance center.

    For decades, Hong Kong was also Asia’s movie-making hub, churning out immensely popular films and producing a handful of global stars. The new rules would appear to apply to anyone planning to screen a film in Hong Kong at movie theaters or public places, which includes private companies and members’ clubs, according to the original ordinance.

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    In This Story: Hong Kong

    Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR), is a metropolitan area and special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China on the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. With over 7.5 million residents of various nationalities in a 1,104-square-kilometre (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

    Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. The whole territory was transferred to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems”.

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