Friday, January 23, 2009

Proposed amendments to Films Act are even more ambiguous

In brief:

Allowed : "Wholly accurate" depictions of "actual" events, persons and situations.
Not Allowed : Fictional films about political events, persons or situations.
Questionable : Documentaries containing ex-political detainees' accounts of mental and physical torture under ISA detentions. Dramas depicting political events, persons and situations.

Allowed : Recordings of events that are held according to the law.
Not Allowed : Recordings of protests, demonstrations, political gatherings or any act deemed to be illegal under the law. Does new law empowers police to arrest video cameramen on site?
Questionable : Recordings of events that may not be deemed illegal at the time of recording, such as this, this and this.

Related:

kill the messenger, we're Singaporeans

Filming an illegal event is… illegal?

Saving jobs, savaging filmmakers

Proposed Films Act Amendments: Silencing Upgraded

My Dear Government, Why Do You Treat Me So?

How to inflict selective amnesia

Amendments to the Films Act

Films Act changes target civil disobedience videos



Changes proposed to Films Act

STRAITS TIMES
January 23, 2009 Friday

A BILL was introduced in Parliament yesterday seeking to exempt certain types of films from an existing ban on 'party political films'.

Under proposed amendments to the Films Act, live film recordings of election rallies, public speeches or processions, as well as anniversary celebration videos by political parties will not be considered as party political films.

But the events being filmed must first be held in accordance with the law.

Other types of films that will pass muster are:

  • Documentaries 'made without any animation and composed wholly of an accurate account depicting actual events, persons and situations';

  • Films made by political parties or election candidates of their manifesto and policies.

    The changes expand the list of films not considered party political films under Section 2(3) of the Act.

    The original list in that section comprises films made solely for the purpose of reporting news, and films made just for the purpose of informing or educating the public on the procedures and polling times for any election or national referendum.

    The changes are in line with the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts' (Mica) response earlier this month to recommendations made by an advisory council on new media.

    The Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society had recommended lifting the ban on party political films in stages, which the Government accepted.

    The Films Act currently defines a party political film in two ways.

    First, as an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore.

    Second, as a film made by any individual which contains material likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum here, or contains partisan or biased comments on any political matter.

    If amendments to the Act are accepted by Parliament, the Board of Film Censors will be the authority that decides whether a film submitted to it is a party political film.

    Also proposed in the Bill is a new Section 4A which empowers the Mica Minister to establish one or more advisory committees to advise the board in relation to any film.

  • Monday, January 12, 2009

    One Country, Two Systems Part lll


    "The essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all."
    - Singapore's Attorney General Walter Woon, Straits Times Jan 4, 2009



    One Law For Them



    Over 200 Chinese nationals held a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Manpower building to protest against salary arrears on December 30 2008. They were not arrested. Link here.

    Video here by Ho Choon Hiong (It's not Apocalypse Now but enjoy)


    Another For Them



    Singaporeans Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong were arrested this afternoon in front of the same MOM building for staging a protest in support of Burmese nationals allegedly being forced to leave the country for their pro-democracy activities. They were released four hours later and are now being investigated for alleged criminal trespass. Link here and response by Ministry here.


    One Law For This


    A seven-part documentary, produced by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, which traces the ruling People's Action Party's ride to power on the back of the "Communist Tiger" in pre-independent Singapore. The DVD is freely available in Singapore.


    Another For This

    A still from Zahari's 17 Years, a documentary produced by local filmmaker Martyn See which features a protracted interview with Said Zahari, an ex-journalist accused by the Singapore Government of being a communist and subsequently detained for 17 years without trial. It is currently banned by the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts for allegedly "undermin[ing] public confidence in the government."

    One Country, Two Systems Part l and Part ll

    Friday, January 09, 2009

    Singapore Goverment still fearful of political films

    A bulletin of what I told CNA and ST about the Government's position on the proposed amendments to the Films Act.
    • That I'm standing by my original position that Section 33 and Section 35 should be repealed unconditionally, completely and immediately.
    • That with the partial lifting, we're no better than where we were in 1998 when the Films Act was amended. It's one step backwards, half-step forward.
    • That I rejected the proposal of an "independent advisory panel" to decide for the rest of the population what is suitable for viewing. A First World Nation who attained self-governance in 1959 should allow its people to decide for themselves. Singaporeans are mature and discerning enough.
    • That when it comes to political expression, I believe in community self-moderation, not Government intervention.
    • That the refusal to decriminalize "party political films" and the reluctance to disclose reasons for banning a film under Section 35 is worrying and shows up an insecure government.
    • That the Government's claim that they are "protecting society" by reserving their right to ban films holds no water. A few hundred thousand people have seen 'Singapore Rebel' and 'Zahari's 17 Years' on the internet. I have not received a single complaint calling for the removal of these films. The only people who objected to the screening of these two films are the Government themselves. Whose interests are they really protecting? Singaporeans' or just Lee Kuan Yew's?

    • That 'Singapore Rebel' was in fact inspired by a documentary shown on CNA in 2003 on the political life of Lee Kuan Yew entitled 'Success Stories'. That 'Zahari's 17 Years' presents a counter-balance to 'Riding The Tiger', a documentary made by CNA and the Government about the PAP's defeat of the "Communist Left." Both 'Success Stories' and 'Riding The Tiger' are openly available in local shops.
    • That the Government has shown that it can act quickly by bailing out ailing foreign financial institutions. No reason why it can't summon the same speed in liberalising political space for its own citizens.
    • That the Government has admitted that they cannot stop people from posting political videos online makes it even more imperative that Section 33 and 35 be repealed unconditionally and completely. Why bother retaining laws that cannot be enforced?
    • That I'm resubmitting 'Singapore Rebel' and 'Zahari's 17 Years'. It's the only way to force the Government to define clearly what constitutes an "objective" and "factual" political film.
    • That I'm embarking on a campaign to highlight other sections of the Films Act which affects and criminalizes everyone in Singapore, not just political filmmakers.


    Films Act to be amended to allow factual party political films

    By Valarie Tan, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 09 January

    SINGAPORE : The Singapore government has accepted 17 out of 26 recommendations made by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media Society, or AIMS.

    It agreed with the Council that it should take a phased approach to liberalising the Films Act, instead of repealing it immediately.

    It will amend the Films Act to allow for certain types of party political films, which means that political parties and their candidates will be able to use films for internet election advertising during an election.

    But party political films will have to be factual and objective and not dramatise or present a distorted picture.

    In a news conference on Friday morning, Information, Communications and the Arts Minister Lee Boon Yang said that the government will move to amend the Films Act in the next month or two.

    The government also agreed to set up an independent advisory panel, which will be made up of citizens of high standing and who are non-partisan.

    The panel - to be chaired by a retired Senior District Judge and chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority, Mr Richard Magnus - will determine whether films are party political films and if they can be aired.

    But the Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) said it will retain its right to ban films, like "Zahari 17 Years", which it feels are against public interest under Section 35 of the Films Act even though they may be readily available on the Internet.

    Under the law, the minister is not obliged to give reasons for the ban.

    Dr Lee said: "We know that it's not possible to block everything in certain situations, but that doesn't mean we should give in, be carried along by the tide. We should still state our position."

    When asked why a different law is applied for political films compared to, say, films with violence and sex, Dr Lee said: "For political films, we're protecting society, because we want to maintain the political debate as a rational objective debate, not one given to emotional outburst, not one based on distorted presentations of issues."

    "There is a danger to allowing such films to be circulated publicly in Singapore. Then, you will actually degrade the level of political debate, and you could bring the debate down to a competition between films," he added.

    But the ministry has agreed to relax the Films Act in phases. Responding to the news, filmmaker Martyn See said: "When the government says 'in phases', then the next thing we have to ask is: When? - next five years, next 10 years, when? The government has shown it can act very quickly. So let's act quickly to liberalise political space for Singaporeans."

    Mr See also said he would re-submit his two previously banned films -"Singapore Rebel" and "Zahari 17 Years" - once the amended Films Act has been passed.

    In terms of e-engagement, the government said it will devote more resources to engage Singaporeans in cyberspace. But to ensure accountability, it will not remove the requirement for political websites to be registered.

    The government will also not respond to Internet criticisms outside government sites like REACH. In response to this, blogger Alex Au said: "Is the government going to say 'no, we're going to ignore them because you didn't come into my room?'

    "The government has to find ways of addressing some of the issues that are raised in other parts of the Internet, even if nobody brings it up within REACH. It could be in the form of a statement within REACH itself that addresses the stuff that is being talked about outside."

    Blogger Gerald Giam told Channel NewsAsia: "By and large, the bloggers who are blogging about social and political issues do want some sort of response. I mean, it's a simple analogy that if I'm talking to you and you ignore me, then how do I feel?"

    Dr Amy Khor, chairman of REACH, said: "For serious-minded citizens who are interested to engage the government on various issues they are concerned (about), one of the appeals of REACH is that when he gets into the website, his views will be heard... and there is likely to be a response.

    "He may be able to get interaction, especially with the relevant ministries and officers. (This could) possibly even lead to a change, with his ideas."

    On the rule prohibiting civil servants from voicing their personal opinions on government policies online, MICA said there will be no change. The ministry said allowing them to do so will compromise trust within the Civil Service.

    The government has also accepted almost all the Council's views on protecting minors.

    ---------------------------------

    "..The dark reaches of the internet."

    Try deciphering this cryptic talk from Dr Lee Boon Yang, Singapore's very well-paid Communications and Information Minister.

    " Individuals may be able to surf the web and pull down the film and watch it, I think it's something we've to accept. But we should not because some individuals can do so, we should allow this film to circulate widely and openly in the Singapore context because there's a difference from giving such films the privilege to circulate freely in Singapore to saying that those who want to watch it well you go to the dark reaches of the Internet, pull it down and watch it."
    Party political films, more new media tools allowed by next election

    Progress, a step at a time

    Other reactions from "the dark reaches of the internet"..

    Singapore government rejects AIMS' key recommendations

    Nobly Oppressive

    Lame response to AIMS recommendations shows how behind times the PAP is

    Films Act: Fate of political documentary films remains unclear

    one step forward, another step back?

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    One Nation Under the Films Act




















    Join the campaign to raise awareness about a law that criminalizes everyone in Singapore who has in his or her possession a copy of a film that has not been licensed by the authorities. And this includes video images stored in mobile phones.

    The Films Act is an archaic piece of legislation written in 1981. We are calling for a repeal, or at the very least, a complete review of the statute.

    Click here to join

    ________________________________________

    Sections of the Films Act you should know about

    SECTION 12

    Films made in Singapore to be deposited in approved warehouse
    12. —(1) The owner of any film made in Singapore shall, within 7 days after the making of the film, deposit the film in a warehouse approved for this purpose by the Board.

    (2) Any person who fails to deposit the film in accordance with subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.


    SECTION 14

    Submission of films for censorship
    14. —(1) Every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship at the owner’s risk and expense and at such time and place as the Board may appoint.

    (2) During the course of censorship, the Board may in its discretion exclude any person from the place where the film is being exhibited.


    SECTION 15

    Prohibition and approval of films for exhibition
    15. —(1) After the submission of a film for the purpose of censorship, the Board may —

    (a) approve the film for exhibition without alteration or excision;

    (b) prohibit the exhibition of the film; or

    (c) approve the film for exhibition with such alterations or excisions as it may require.


    SECTION 21

    Penalty for possession, exhibition or distribution of uncensored films
    21. —(1) Any person who —

    (a) has in his possession;

    (b) exhibits or distributes; or

    (c) reproduces,

    any film without a valid certificate, approving the exhibition of the film, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —

    (i) in respect of an offence under paragraph (a), to a fine of not less than $100 for each such film that he had in his possession (but not to exceed in the aggregate $20,000); and

    (ii) in respect of an offence under paragraph (b) or (c), to a fine of not less than $500 for each such film he had exhibited, distributed or reproduced, as the case may be (but not to exceed in the aggregate $40,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
    [10/98]


    SECTION 22

    Advertisement of films for exhibition prohibited unless approved by Board
    22. —(1) No person shall advertise or cause to be advertised the exhibition or distribution of any film unless the advertisement has been approved by the Board.

    (2) Any person who advertises or causes to be advertised any film where the advertisement in respect of the film has not been approved by the Board under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.


    SECTION 23

    Search for unauthorised films and arrest of persons
    23. —(1) Whenever a Deputy or an Assistant Commissioner of Police or an Assistant Superintendent of Police is satisfied upon written information and after any further inquiry which he may think necessary that any film —

    (a) which has not been —

    (i) deposited in an approved warehouse as required by section 12 or 13;

    (ii) returned to the Board as required by section 14 (4); or

    (iii) approved for exhibition under section 15 or 26 (4);

    (b) in respect of which the certificate issued therefor has ceased to be valid under section 20; or

    (c) which has been altered in any way after a certificate in respect of the film was issued,

    has been or is being exhibited or kept in any place, he may issue a warrant directed to any police officer to enter and search that place and seize the film and to take into custody any person reasonably believed to be guilty of an offence by reason of failure to deposit or to return the film or by reason of such possession or exhibition.
    [10/98]

    (2) A Deputy or an Assistant Commissioner of Police or an Assistant Superintendent of Police may without warrant, with such assistance and by such force as is necessary, by night or by day, himself do what he may authorise any police officer to do under subsection (1) in either of the following cases:

    (a) if he has personal knowledge of such facts as satisfy him that there are sufficient grounds for a search;

    (b) if he receives information orally in such circumstances that the object of a search would in his opinion be defeated by the delay necessary for reducing the information to writing except that the name and address of the person giving the information is known to or ascertained by him before he acts upon the information.


    SECTION 30

    Possession of obscene films
    30. —(1) Any person who has in his possession any obscene film shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than $500 for each such film he had in his possession (but not to exceed in the aggregate $20,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.


    SECTION 33

    Making, distribution and exhibition of party political films
    33. Any person who —

    (a) imports any party political film;

    (b) makes or reproduces any party political film;

    (c) distributes, or has in his possession for the purposes of distributing, to any other person any party political film; or

    (d) exhibits, or has in his possession for the purposes of exhibiting, to any other person any party political film,

    knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the film to be a party political film shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.


    SECTION 34

    Search and seizure of unlawful films
    34. —(1) Any Deputy or Assistant Commissioner of Police, Assistant Superintendent of Police or any Censor, Deputy or Assistant Censor or Inspector of Films, if satisfied upon written information and after such further inquiry as he thinks necessary that any person has in his possession any obscene film or party political film, may without warrant, with such assistance and by such force as is necessary, by night or by day, enter and search any place where he has reason to believe the film is kept, seize the film and any equipment used in the exhibition, making or reproduction of the film and take into custody any person reasonably believed to be in possession thereof.


    SECTION 35

    Minister may prohibit possession or distribution of any film
    35. —(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act if the Minister is of the opinion that the possession or distribution of any film would be contrary to the public interest, he may, in his discretion, by order published in the Gazette prohibit the possession or distribution of that film by any person.

    (2) Any person who has in his possession or who distributes any film the possession or distribution of which has been prohibited under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both, and the film shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Minister thinks fit.


    SECTION 40

    Exemptions
    40. —(1) This Act shall not apply to —

    (a) any film sponsored by the Government;

    (b) any film, not being an obscene film or a party political film or any feature, commercial, documentary or overseas television serial film, which is made by an individual and is not intended for distribution or public exhibition; and

    (c) any film reproduced from local television programmes and is not intended for distribution or public exhibition.
    [10/98]

    (2) The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, exempt any person or class of persons or any film or class of films from all or any of the provisions of this Act.

    (3) An exemption granted under this section may be withdrawn at any time.

    ________________________________________

    INTERPRETATIONS

    "film" means —

    (a) any cinematograph film;

    (b) any video recording, including a video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game;

    (c) any other material record or thing on which is recorded or stored for immediate or future retrieval any information that, by the use of any computer or electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or displayed as wholly or partly visual moving pictures,

    and includes any part of a film, and any copy or part of a copy of the whole or any part of a film;

    ------------------------------------------


    "obscene" , in relation to a film, means a film the effect of which or (where the film comprises 2 or more distinct parts or items) the effect of any one of its parts or items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to see or hear the film;

    -------------------------------------------


    "party political film" means a film —

    (a) which is an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body; or

    (b) which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore;

    (2) For the purposes of this Act, a film is directed towards a political end in Singapore if the film —

    (a) contains wholly or partly any matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore; or

    (b) contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter, including but not limited to any of the following:

    (i) an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

    (ii) a candidate or group of candidates in an election;

    (iii) an issue submitted or otherwise before electors in an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

    (iv) the Government or a previous Government or the opposition to the Government or previous Government;

    (v) a Member of Parliament;

    (vi) a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore; or

    (vii) a political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body.
    [10/98]

    (3) For the avoidance of doubt, any film which is made solely for the purpose of —

    (a) reporting of current events; or

    (b) informing or educating persons on the procedures and polling times for any election or national referendum in Singapore,

    is not a party political film.