Singapore lifts ban on film about opposition politician
SINGAPORE — Singapore on Friday lifted a ban on a film about a local opposition politician under revised guidelines introduced earlier in March this year.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) announced the lifting of the ban on "Singapore Rebel" on its website, saying the documentary no longer violates the revised Films Act.
Previously, the 26-minute documentary about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan was banned because under the old guidelines, it was classified as a "party political film.
Before the amendments were introduced this year, the Films Act prohibited the making and distribution of films containing partisan political references or comments.
Under the amended Films Act, the documentary "should therefore not be regarded as a party political film," the MDA said in a statement posted on its website.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last year the government accepted that its policies must evolve to remain relevant in the current media landscape in which Internet use has become more widespread.
Singapore has often been criticised by human rights and media groups for maintaining strict political controls despite its rapid modernisation but the government says the strict laws are necessary to maintain law and order -- a pillar of the country's economic prosperity.
Ban on film lifted
by Teo Xuanwei ,Today
AFTER more than four years, film-maker Martyn See's Singapore Rebel, a documentary on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, has finally been approved for viewing here by those aged 18 years and above.
While commentators see as "irrelevant" the audience impact of the Media Development Authority's (MDA) lifting of the ban on Friday - given how the 26-minute video has been available online and viewed more than 400,000 times to date - they hail it as a symbolic move that marks the first signs of a more relaxed political space.
It follows changes to the Films Act in March, which saw the easing of a decade-long ban on all political films. Those with factual footage, documentaries and recordings of live events are now allowed.
Still, just how much clarity did the authority's decision on Singapore Rebel bring to film-makers hoping to explore the new OB markers?
In a brief statement, the MDA said the Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) "is of the view that Singapore Rebel is a documentary film" falling within statutory exclusions. It, therefore, "should not be regarded as a party political film".
While hailing this milestone as having "set the stage for future political films others might want to make", MP for Hong Kah GRC Zaqy Mohamad noted: "Elaborating on the considerations in evaluating films would serve as a guide for future projects, and people would be less worried about making such films."
Though Mr Tan Tarn How views the ban's lifting as a "big step forward to a more liberal regime", the Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow said: "The M18 rating is largely meaningless because in an Internet era, anybody of any age can access the film." And the mere fact that the Government still sets markers shows the amended laws remain "problematic", he argued.
Whether this first clearing of a banned film signals "true and genuine liberalisation", in legal counsel Siew Kum Hong's view, will depend on how the PFCC rules on the next three to five new films.
Both Mr Siew and Mr Tan also wished the "reasons and thinking process" of the PFCC had been revealed to the public.
When asked for elaboration by Weekend Today, Ms Amy Chua, who chairs the Board of Film Censors, noted that the Films Act amendment allowed for more political films that "do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture". Mr See had "requested his film be assessed as a documentary without any animation and composed wholly of an accurate account depicting actual events, persons or situations", she said.
Approving, law Professor Thio Li-ann said: "Singaporeans should be exposed to the lives and works of Singaporean politicians who are not from the establishment, so they can get a fuller picture of politics here and to make up their own minds ... You cannot be informed without viewpoint diversity."
For now, Mr See said he has no plans to screen Singapore Rebel locally or abroad. He intends to submit his other banned film Zahari's 17 Years for evaluation.
Only one other film has been referred to the PFCC for assessment - For I am a Young Singaporean submitted by the Young PAP, still under review.
Martyn See's "Singapore Rebel" film gets green light
By Satish Cheney, Channel NewsAsia
SINGAPORE : The government has lifted a four-year ban on the film "Singapore Rebel".
The film, about Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, is now rated M18, which allows those above 18 years old to view it.
It is the first political film to be allowed since the Films Act was amended in March.
This follows the formation of an independent Political Films Consultative Committee to assess if such films are suitable for public viewing.
Even though the film was banned in 2005, "Singapore Rebel" has been extensively viewed by about half a million people online, according to its filmmaker Martyn See.
In May this year, Martyn resubmitted the film to the Board of Film Censors for vetting.
The Media Development Authority said on Friday that the Board of Film Censors had referred the film to the Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) for advice on whether it should be regarded as a party political film under the Films Act.
And after reviewing the film, the committee said "Singapore Rebel" is a documentary and not a party political film.
Amy Chua, chairman, Board of Film Censors, said: "The government has amended the Films Act to allow for more types of party political films that do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture, as part of the government's move to further liberalise and expand the space for greater political discourse.
The applicant (Martyn See) has requested that his film be assessed as a documentary without any animation and composed wholly of an accurate account depicting actual events, persons or situations.
"The PFCC had assessed that the film would fall under the statutory exclusion set out in section 2(3)(e) of the Films Act."
It is the first film to be assessed and allowed by the new committee.
While the man behind the film has welcomed the move, he still has mixed feelings about the lifting of the ban.
Martyn said: "First of all, it is symbolic. Symbolic because it has been watched by half a million people on YouTube and Google Video for the last four years.
"In that sense, I am not too elated about it but on the other hand, it is a good step forward in the sense that other future film makers who want to attempt to do the same kind of films will know where the boundaries are."
Martyn has no plans to screen the film any time soon. But he is hoping that his other film, "Zahari's 17 Years", about former political detainee Said Zahari, will get the green light as well. - CNA/ms
Censor okays Martyn See film on Chee
Singapore Rebel passed with M18 rating under the revised Films Act
By Sue-Ann Chia , SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
THE film Singapore Rebel, which features opposition figure Chee Soon Juan, was passed by the censors with an M18 rating on Friday - four years after it was banned.
Produced by film-maker Martyn See, it is the first political film to make the cut after the Films Act was amended in March to relax the rules on such films.
Instead of a blanket ban on what are deemed 'party political films', the law was changed to allow films which fulfil certain criteria, such as those featuring factual footage or live recordings of speeches and events. It prompted Mr See to re-submit his film to the Board of Film Censors (BFC) in May.
'I had no expectations,' the 40-year-old told The Straits Times on Friday, after receiving official word that his film had been passed.
His nonchalance stems from his experience, since the film was was barred from being screened at the annual Singapore International Film Festival in 2005. It led to a 15-month police probe over its content - which revolves around Dr Chee and his activities - and his intent in making it.
Since then, the film has been uploaded to video-sharing website YouTube and Mr See has become a staunch supporter of scrapping the Films Act.
As the film has been viewed 'thousand-over times' online, Mr See views the BFC's decision more as a 'symbolic gesture'. However, he agrees it could embolden other film-makers to make more political films.
On Friday, the BFC said it had referred Singapore Rebel to the Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC), set up in May to vet political films.
'Having reviewed the film, the PFCC is of the view that Singapore Rebel is a documentary film falling within the statutory exclusions set out in section 2 (3)(e) of the Films Act and should therefore not be regarded as a party political film,' the BFC said, in a statement posted on the Media Development Authority's website.
The film is the first passed by the PFCC.
Another film under review is For I Am A Young Singaporean, produced by the Young PAP, the youth wing of the People's Action Party.
The lifting of the ban on Singapore Rebel received a lukewarm welcome from observers and the arts community.
Film-maker Tan Pin Pin said it was a step in the right direction, as it gives some clarity on what kind of political films will make the cut.
"But more films will have to go through this process to give a clearer picture of where the OB markers are," she said, referring to "out-of-bound" markers that set the perimeter of what is allowed.
Ms Tan, however, is highly perturbed by the M18 rating.
"It is unclear why it needs to be there. Does it mean that if you're not yet 18, you're not mature enough to watch films on opposition politicians?"
Nominated MP Audrey Wong, however, believes it shows a certain liberalisation that films on opposition politicians are more accessible to the public.
"More access to information means people have more data and facts to judge for themselves," said Ms Wong, co-artistic director of arts venue Substation. "It might also send the signal to film-makers that it is safe to submit political films."
But former Nominated MP and lawyer Siew Kum Hong said it would be better if the BFC listed in detail why the film was passed and viewed as a documentary.
"It will a useful guideline for future film-makers," he added.
Asked if it signalled that more political films will be given the green light, he replied: "One swallow does not a summer make. Let's wait and see."
Still, MP Zaqy Mohammad, who is the Young PAP's vice-chairman, believes the passing of Singapore Rebel is significant as it "paves the way for other films to go through this process".
Mr See is now on a mission to get the ban lifted on another of his films, Zahari's 17 Years, on former political detainee Said Zahari.
"The political left story needs to be heard fully," he said, citing the new book on the PAP, Men In White, which includes the account of leftists.