Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First human rights films festival held in Singapore

Singapore's first human rights film festival, held at the Substation Arts Centre on Sunday 14 Nov, 2010, saw the screening of 7 short films from Freedom Film Fest, a premier event in the calendar of Malaysia's civil society for the last seven years, and brought to local audience this year by Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD).

Despite an earlier downpour, about 80 people packed the Guinness Theatre for 4 hours to witness documentaries about the democracy movements, police corruption, lives of transsexual sex workers, plight of the Orang Asli and the forces that sparked the notorious cow-head protest.

A common consensus heard from viewers after the screenings were that the content of the films were enlightening and evenly researched.

SFD members Seelan Palay and Martyn See rounded up the afternoon by promising that the next FFF will feature local content, but of course this is contingent upon the approval of the censors at the Media Development Authority, who had rated all but one of the seven films M18. Human rights, according to the Singapore government, are for "mature" audiences. SFD pledges to correct that misconception.

An earlier press release for the event.

Pro-democracy group to hold first human rights film festival in Singapore
A film festival dedicated to the promotion of human rights issues will be held for the first time in Singapore on November 14, 2010. Organised by local political association Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD), Freedom Film Fest Singapore will showcase seven human rights documentaries from neighbouring Malaysia.
- Hide quoted text -

Details as follows :

Freedom Film Festival Singapore : A Showcase of Human Rights Films from Malaysia.
Date : 14 Nov 2010
Time : 2pm to 6pm
Venue : Guinness Theatre, Substation Arts Centre, 45 Armenian Street
Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=135960353120755
Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Sales of T-shirts and other paraphernalia at the door.

Are there any films from Singapore? Why not?

No, there are no films from Singapore. The Films Act prohibits the production and exhibition of films which display biased references towards any political issue or persons in Singapore. The penalties for such an offence is a conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years. In 2005, local filmmaker Martyn See was investigated by the police for such an offence. Two of See's films remained banned in the country. Another filmmaker, Seelan Palay, is currently undergoing criminal investigation for exhibiting a documentary critical of Lee Kuan Yew. The legal restrictions to political film-making, compounded by a culture of fear among filmmakers and artists in Singapore towards any depiction of "sensitive" issues, meant there is currently a dearth of human rights films made by Singaporeans about Singapore.

Why films from Malaysia?

Now into its seventh year, the Freedom Film Fest was initiated by Malaysian NGO Komas Pusat as a means to educate the public on the values of human rights. The festival's circuit in recent years has included Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and East Malaysia. Due to our shared political and cultural history with Malaysia, SFD has decided to host the Singapore leg of the festival this year. As the views raised in these films reflect ground sentiments of the Malaysian public and of its civil society, we feel that Singaporeans would be interested to get a first-hand look at the issues affecting their neighbours. The FFF 2010 in Malaysia is supported by the European Commission. None of the films shown in its seven year history has been censored or banned by the Malaysia Government.


Kopi O Khau (30 min) 2006
Dir : Andrew Sia
Language : English, Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

In 2005, after a leaked video of a naked female suspect performing ear-squats in a police station had sparked public outrage, the Malaysian Royal Police faced a barrage of allegations including physical abuse, corruption and disproportionate allocation of resouces to monitor political activities instead of combating real crime. Kopi O Khau, translated as "thick black coffee", is a colloquial term for "coffee money", or bribes. Over a hip-hop soundtrack, Andrew Sia interviews activists, politicians and a retired police officer in his quest to restore police integrity and service in Malaysia to "truly royal standards."

Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka, or 10 Years Before Independence (30 min) 2007
Dir : Fahmi Reza
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated PG

October 20th, 1947 marked a historical day in the Malayan people's constitutional struggle for independence from British colonialism.
This documentary chronicles the events that culminated in the Malaya-wide 'Hartal' day of protest against the undemocratic Federation of Malaya Constitutional Proposals devised by the British Colonial Government and UMNO. Breathtaking in its scope of research and enthralling in its use of music and archival material, Fahmi Reza has aguably created the definitive film on the genesis of the democratic movement in pre-independence Malaysia and Singapore.

Pecah Lobang, or Busted (30 min) 2008
Dir : Poh Si Teng
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

Shot in the red light district in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, the documentary follows the life of Natasha, a Muslim Mak Nyah (transsexual), who refuses to live life as a man. Unable to secure employment because of discrimination, Natasha turns to sex work and lives in constant fear of the police and religious authorities. While interviewing a broad cross-section of society including a religious scholar, a sex-change physician, a sociologist, attorneys and a social worker, Teng Poh Si unflinchingly examines the continuing repression of transsexuals in a Malaysian society caught between rapid modernisation and a new rising tide of religious conservatism.

Kayuh (21 min) 2009
Dir : Soh Sook Hwa
Language : Bahasa, English (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

This documentary is a first-hand account of the trials and tribulations of a 100-strong contingent of cyclists who had rode into Kuala Lumpur from Kedah in the north and from Johor Baru in the south. Their purpose - to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister to highlight six major concerns of marginalized groups in Malaysia. With an intention to make stops at villages and towns along the way to raise awareness among the public, the cyclists were repeatedly harassed by authorities from delivering their message. Unrelenting in its pursuit and invigorating in its spirit, Soh Sook Hwa has managed to produce an uplifting work to inspire activists all over the world.

Hak Dinafikan (30 min) 2010
Dir : Abri Yok Chopil & Shafie bin Dris
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

On March 17, 2010 more than 2,000 Orang Asli marched in a rare protest against a proposed new land policy, believed to be detrimental to their people. This documentary- made by a team of Orang Asli - contains their voices; many who are speaking out for the first time. Hear what they have to say in their own words.

Pilih (30 min) 2010
Dir : Loo Que Lin
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

Are Malaysian universities empowering future generations to participate in a democratic society, or are they nurturing disempowered and indoctrinated youths? Using a popular talk show format, Pilih explores the issue of campus election and exposes the reality faced by students. It gives us insight as to why Malaysian youths may be apathetic, and a micro-look as to how democracy functions in Malaysia.

Kisah Tauke Mancis Dan Minyak Tumpah (30 min) 2010
Dir : Sheridan Mahavera & Siti Nurbaiyah
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

This is a story of two communities and the relocation of a temple. This film takes a look behind the sensational headlines of the cow head protest to understand how the dispute came to be. It reminds us how extremism can easily be fueled when we fail to understand the context of the dispute, and manage such situations beyond the emotions.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The day Straits Times defended press freedom

Not for a hundred years has the freedom of the press in Singapore been in such danger as it is today. If the People’s Action Party is in a position to form a government, one of its first concerns will be to bring the newspapers to heel. This is the only construction that can be placed on the statements of PAP leaders, including its chairman Dr Toh Chin Chye and secretary general Lee Kuan Yew. If this conclusion is wrong, it is easy for PAP to say so. It’s leaders need only affirm their respect for freedom of the press, their respect for the right to criticize, their respect indeed for the rights of all political opposition. They must not, however, qualify their affirmation with “buts”. Like the individual, the press is either free or not free. It can comment and criticize, subject to the laws of defamation and libel, or it has no soul to call its own.

A censored press remains bad even when it produces good things. A free press remains good even when it produces bad things… a eunuch remains a mutilated being even if he possesses a fine voice. A great Socialist said that – Karl Marx. It may be that PAP’s spokesmen do not mean all they say, or that they intend to do all that they threaten. They have said some quite monstrous things, not only about the press, and are likely to go on saying them, partly no doubt because they believe threats sometimes work but also because a strong section of their following expect it of them. There is occasionally a conscious “bold bad boy” pose about PAP’s leaders, as noticeable as their undress uniform of tieless white shirt and trousers. It would be foolish and reckless, however, not to pay PAP’s leaders the compliment of believing that their threats, particularly against the press, are meant to be taken seriously.

It is ominous when is told, in an orgy of false witness by party leaders, that PAP believes in “objective reporting and the accurate dissemination of news.” This has been the classic introduction to the repression of the press everywhere the press is in chains. Dictatorships, whether of the Left or the Right, begin their suppression of the truth by confining the press to what they call “the accurate dissemination of news.” The papers then disseminate news as the party and its leaders instruct, or the press does not publish at all. It may seem fantastic that such a threat to freedom and liberty should confront Singapore in this day and age of political advance, but PAP’s leaders have made it quite clear that they do not understand the fundamental principles of the freedom of the press. It follows that they do not understand the first principles of the liberty of the people.

Opposition to PAP policy, PAP spokesmen have said, entails the risk of becoming “a political casualty.” There has been no definition yet of “a political casualty”, the extent of the injury and the manner of inflicting it has been left to the imagination. But we must assume that this phrase introduces a new PAP conception of a government’s powers, and of its right to act against those who do not share its views and refuse to keep their silence. Unmistakably PAP is hostile to a free press, to newspapers it cannot control.

- Threat to Freedom, Straits Times editorial, April 21, 1959.

A study of the subjugation of the Singapore media is a political study of Lee Kuan Yew in action. He was always wary of the media, especially of the Chinese and Malay newspapers, which, he said, “bore more careful watching than the English-language press, as they make much more emotive and powerful appeals in the mother language” and “tug at the heartstrings” of their leaders. But the unruly domestic media was not suddenly or violently reined in. That would have been politically gauche and very un-Lee. A masterplan for the suppression of the media was devised by him and time-implemented for maximum effect at critical stages.

At the advent of internal self-goverment in June 1959, Singapore had a raft of free and independent English and Chinese-language, as well as vernacular, newspapers, which, saved for the Straits Times, were owned or controlled by families or groups of individuals. But all this was to undergo a fundamental transmutation under PAP rule.

While professing his government a democracy, Lee introduced a plethora of laws systematically curbing freedom of expression under different guises. Newspapers were accused of “Malay chauvinism,” encouraging “permissiveness” or other “undesirable Western values,” “glamourizing” communism, “fanning the flames of Chinese chauvinism over language, education and culture,” or of murky conspiracies with foreign individuals, groups and governments closely accompanied by arbitrary detention of journalists, editors and owners of newspaper companies under one pretext or another, but always in the name of security and stability.

As a result, the independent Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau lost not only its owners but also its unique identity, while the two English-language newspapers – the politically correct Eastern Sun, whose bankers were the premier communist Bank of China, and the young and brash Singapore Herald, whose bankers, the Chase Manhatten Bank, were then the second-largest capitalist bank in the world – met their premature demise at the hands of the prime minister, whose hitherto enviable reputation with the international media lay shattered among the ruins of those newsapers.

In January 1973, as a first major step towards the subjugation of the print media, the Printing Presses Act was repealed and reenacted with profound amendments as the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) 1974, ostensibly to “safeguard public interest by ensuring that undesirable foreign elements do not gain control of our newspapers and use them against the welfare of our society.”

The law smoothed the way for management control of the newspaper companies by persons approved or nominated by the PAP government. Warned the Straits Times editor-in-chief [Peter Lim], who was later eased out of his powerful position: “Whatever the Singapore journalist’s dreams, he cannot forget … the reality that … the [PAP] government could put anyone or remove him from any position in a newspaper company.”

- The Media Enthralled, Francis Seow, 1998

You can find the actual article here.

You can also read a related article here.

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