Hong Kong expands film censorship under national security law

Politics & Current Affairs

Any movie, whether foreign or domestic and even regardless of content, can now be barred from screening in Hong Kong if local censors feel its showing could endanger national security as defined by Beijing.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Today, Hong Kong’s authorities took a significant, though not unexpected, move to broaden film censorship rules to accommodate the national security law that Beijing imposed on the city a year ago. The new Film Censorship Guidelines for Censors are effective immediately. Censors are now directed to:

  • Be “vigilant” to the “portrayal, depiction or treatment of any act or activity which may amount to an offence endangering national security,” including “any content of the film which is objectively and reasonably capable of being perceived as endorsing, supporting, promoting, glorifying, encouraging or inciting such act or activity.”
  • Block the screening of any film, even irrespective of its content or where it was filmed and produced, if “the likely effect of the film as a whole and the likely effect on the persons likely to view the film may endanger national security or the safeguarding of national security.”

In other words, while Hong Kong’s local censors had “previously screened content merely to rate it for typical metrics like violence or obscenity, classifying them into one of three categories to indicate age appropriateness,” they will now “have to actively intuit what will displease Beijing,” per Variety.

Hong Kong TV stations and cinemas had already made several unusual decisions in recent months that presaged the new guidelines.

  • In March, one cinema cancelled a screening of a documentary about the 2019 pro-democracy protests after pro-Beijing groups criticized it.
  • After another documentary about the protests was nominated for an Oscar, local station TVB decided not to air the awards show for the first time since 1969.
  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK cancelled nine episodes of current affairs programmes in March after a change in leadership, and later pulled a radio show featuring an opposition politician.

Even before the expanded censorship, local filmmakers had “reported difficulties finding finance or crew for projects that could conceivably touch on subjects deemed politically sensitive by Beijing,” Variety reports. Some worried that the changes would affect “not just which movies are screened in Hong Kong, but also how they get produced and whether they get made at all,” per the New York Times.

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