Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Govt appoints 7 gatekeepers to vet political films

Using the power of film then

Television won't get more emotive than this. This is the most iconic political image in Singapore's television history. Lee Kuan Yew shedding tears over the expulsion of Singapore by Malaysia on 9th August 1965. Lee was to become the first Prime Minister of an independent Republic of Singapore on that day.

"Without much of an opposition in Parliament I missed a foil to project issues. I made up for it with a major annual speech. On a Sunday evening a week or so after my eve-of-National-Day telecast, I would speak at an indoor National Day rally of about 1,200 community leaders. It was televised live. With only notes, I would speak for one to two hours on the important issues of the day.. Television polls showed I had high viewership.. This annual speech was an important occasion when I set out to move the people to work together with the government and overcome our problems."
- Lee Kuan Yew, page 148, From Third World To First

Controlling the power of film now

In 1986, the Singapore Government under Lee Kuan Yew introduced the Films Act to vet all productions of video and films in the island state. In 1998, the Act was amended to ban all 'party political films' that contain "biased references" to any political matter or persons. Last month, the Government amended the law again, freeing up political parties to make campaign videos but introducing new restrictions to the definition of what constitutes a 'party political film' (see here).

Not contend with the new restrictions, the Government yesterday appointed a Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) to vet political films.

Here's how it works :

After you make a film in Singapore, you are required by law to submit your film to the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

If your film has political content, you have two choices - to declare that it is a political film, or not. Even if you don't, the BFC can still deem your film to be a political film.

Your political film then goes before the PFCC. Although its role is an advisory one, the PFCC's decision can mean the difference between a red carpet premiere of your film or a maximum term of two years imprisonment or a $100,000 fine. Yes, in case the press hasn't reminded you - it is a criminal offence to make a 'party political film.'

It gets worse: Even if the PFCC lets you off the hook, the BFC still retain the final say. Your last hope would be to appeal to a Films Appeal Committee (FAC). If that fails, you will be subjected to a police probe, similar to the one I went through for 15 months for the making of Singapore Rebel.

Here's the final nail : Even if the PFCC, BFC and FAC lets you off, the Minister can still ban your film under the Section 35 of the Films Act, like my other film Zahari's 17 Years (The saving grace in Section 35 is that it is not a criminal offence).


Panel to engage film-makers
By Aaron Low

A NEW body formed subsequent to the liberalisation of a ban on so-called 'party political films' has assured film-makers it will engage them before making a decision on the fate of their films.

The Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) will ask a film-maker to clarify the intent of the film before deciding whether it should be allowed for public screening, said its chairman Richard Magnus on Tuesday.

'The intent, and not just the specific elements within the film, is an important element in determining if a film should be allowed,' he said.

Introducing the seven-member committee, he also explained its charter and the procedures it will undertake when making its decisions.

To establish intent, the committee could, for instance, draw up a list of queries after reviewing a film, he said.

The queries could include whether the film-maker took steps to verify the accuracy of the content, why the film was made and the costs incurred in making the film, he added.

Until this March, Singapore had in place a wide-ranging ban on political films in the Films Act, which defined these broadly as advertisements for Singapore political parties, or made by an individual with political intent.

The ban was eased in March following recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims).

Some political films will be allowed, but not those which distort or sensationalise the truth, as the Government said when the Films Act was amended in Parliament. In addition, film-makers are still required to submit their films for classification online with the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

They can opt to declare at the outset that their film is political, in which case the film will be sent to the PFCC for assessment.


Who's who on political film panel

Retired Senior District Judge and chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority

Editor of Singapore Press Holdings, Lianhe Zaobao

National University of Singapore Vice-President, University and Global Relations Office, and Director of the Asia Research Institute

President of Singapore Insurance Employees Union and member of NTUC Central Committee

Senior Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

Senior director of law firm Straits Law Practice

Managing director of MediaCorp's movie arm Raintree Pictures


Independent committee formed to assess political films
By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: An independent Political Films Consultative Committee has been formed to assess if political films are suitable for public viewing instead of leaving it to government censors alone.

Political films by Ho Choon Hiong were passed by the Board of Film Censors (BFC) last year and filmmakers hope more will make the cut now that a committee has been formed to advise the Board.

The committee is made up of members of the media, union, academia, and legal sector.

Its chairman, Richard Magnus, said films will be judged independently, rigorously and objectively.

Members on the committee include Prof Lily Kong, vice president at NUS; Terry Lee, central committee member of NTUC; Daniel Yun, MD of MediaCorp Raintree Pictures and Lim Jim Koon, editor of Lianhe Zaobao.

The Films Act was amended in March this year to allow political films that are factual and objective and do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture. Previously, there was a blanket ban on party political films.

Richard Magnus, chairman, Political Films Consultative Committee, said: "Although we are advisory in our deliberations, I think the advise of the committee will need to be given much weight by the BFC. Our objectivity will depend upon how much information we get from the applicant.

"We will encourage the applicant to be completely honest in giving the information. We would expect the applicant to have complete integrity in providing the information and that would be something we are looking for."

Submissions for the political films can be made online.

The committee said it will engage the filmmaker and allow him or her an opportunity to clarify queries before any decision is made.

If a film is not approved by the committee, the Board of Film Censors will be told why and it is up to the board whether or not the reasons will be made public.

If a film is not passed by the committee and the BFC, film makers can also write to the Films Appeal Committee.

Filmmaker Martyn See plans to submit "Singapore Rebel" for consideration. The film, about Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, was banned in 2005.

Mr See said: "Singapore Rebel is on YouTube and Google Video, and it has been watched by more than 200,000 people. So by submitting the film to the film consultative panel, yes it's a symbolic gesture on my part. However, it also means that if the panel allows the film, then other film makers will be less afraid to make their films because it's not cheap to make a film.

"We can speculate all we want about whether this panel will lead to the opening up of political space. But I think the real acid test is when they sit down and watch Singapore Rebel and decide for themselves if the rest of the population is allowed to watch it."

The government had previously said it recognises that Singaporeans want greater space for political discourse and it has over the years widened that space. - CNA/vm

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really wonder just how "independent" this so-called "independent" committee is? Has anyone bothered to check whether anyone or all of its individuals are connected to the ruling party in one way or another?