Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Amnesty International and SEAPA appeals

Oh boy, two international organisations, Amnesty International and SEAPA, have issued appeals for me, and on the same day. I vouch that this has taken me by surprise. Am I pleased? Or fearful that the repercussions might be more severe now that the police investigations into a short video has sparked an international outcry against the Government? Not a time for wild speculations, I'm afraid, for it paralyses me each time I worry about the consequences.

"If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry."
- Dalai Lama, quoting Master Shantideva

Link to Amnesty International appeal
Singapore: Stifling freedom of expression - Film Maker Martyn See Threatened With Prosecution

Singaporean film maker Martyn See is under police investigation for making a short documentary film about an opposition politician in the city state. He has been threatened with prosecution under the Films Act, after a making of a 26-minute documentary on Dr Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and could face up to two years in jail or a fine of up to S$100,000 (approx. US$59,000).

In March 2005 government movie censors ordered the withdrawal of his documentary, entitled Singapore Rebel, from the country’s annual international film festival on the grounds that that it breached the Films Act. Subsequently, as police conducted a criminal investigation, Martyn See was called for questioning and compelled to surrender his video camera, existing tapes of the documentary and other related material.

The Films Act, just one of a wide range of restrictive laws that curtail freedom of expression in Singapore, prohibits "party political films". The Act broadly defines such films as those containing "…either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter".

The subject of the film, Dr Chee Soon Juan, is prominent among the limited number of Singaporeans who remain vocal and active in opposition politics despite the serious obstacles and personal pressures that such a role can entail.

Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned for holding peaceful public meetings, and following civil defamation suits lodged by leaders of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) now faces possible bankruptcy. As a bankrupt he would be barred from standing in parliamentary elections.

Martyn See denies making the film in support of any particular political belief or party, commenting that he sought to "find out Chee Soon Juan's motivation, as to why he does what he does." Although banned in Singapore, the film has been screened at human rights festivals in the United States and New Zealand and may soon be shown in Canada.


Freedom of expression, association and assembly is strictly controlled in Singapore, a city-state of just over four million people. A broad array of restrictive legislation, including the Films Act, the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the Societies Act, the Undesirable Publications Act and the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, imposes tight curbs on free speech and civil society activities.

In respect to curbs on allegedly "political" or other "unacceptable" films, a 15-minute documentary made by three college lecturers about veteran former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was banned in 2001 after it was found to have violated the Films Act. In 2003, a film by Roystan Tan, 15, telling the story of delinquent teenage gangsters, was ordered cut by government censors after police deemed it a threat to national security, though it was reportedly well received at the Vienna Film Festival.

In a recent protest action against the Films Act and other censorship in Singapore, internet activist Yap Keng Ho lodged a police complaint in August in relation to the production and screening by a state-owned television company of allegedly "political" films profiling PAP leaders. Yap Keng Ho stated he wanted to expose a pro-ruling party bias in the Act and its application. Police are investigating the complaint.

Amid hopes of a possible relaxation of political and social controls, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (son of former longstanding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) in his 2004 inaugural speech called for greater participation by Singaporeans in a more "open" and "inclusive" society.

However, continuing tight restrictions, including the use of the Films Act, continue to inhibit political life. In particular, financially ruinous civil defamation suits lodged by PAP leaders against prominent opposition figures deter and intimidate government critics. Following a series of such defamation suits, former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt in 2001, expelled from parliament and barred from contesting elections.

Amnesty International considers these defamation suits were politically motivated and have had a wider 'chilling' effect on the right to freedom of expression in Singapore. The US State Department Human Rights Report has also criticised Singapore for using defamation suits to intimidate opposition politicians, and the press organisation Reporteurs Sans Frontières ranks Singapore 147th out of 167 countries on press freedom.

SEAPA urges Singapore to stop probe of filmmaker, repeal Films Act

26 September 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance is seriously concerned over deepening police investigations into the work and causes of Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See, and urges free expression advocates worldwide to condemn this latest harassment of a citizen for the "crime" of having spoken his mind. At the same time, SEAPA said the case of Martyn See highlights the harshness of Singaporean state practices and laws in stifling free expression.

See is the subject of ongoing police investigations revolving around his production of a documentary on the life of a leading Singaporean opposition figure in the city state. His filmmaking equipment were recently sequestered, and now he has expressed concern that his communications are being closely monitored by the state.

See's documentary— "Singapore Rebel" —focuses on the life of Chee Soon Juan, the secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party who himself was sued for defamation by Singaporean leaders for political speeches he made while stumping for a parliamentary seat in 2001. Dr. Chee is currently facing bankruptcy proceedings.

"Singapore Rebel" was pulled from a Singapore film festival early this year after censors warned that it was too "political". The country's Films Act bars the production and distribution of "party political" films—defined as films "made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore."

Reports coming out of Singapore now suggest that police have begun expanding their investigations, interviewing See's friends and acquaintances, and in at least one case reportedly tracking down one such friend via an unlisted mobile phone number.

Blogger Jacob George wrote an account of his encounter with the police on his blog, omekanahuria.blogspot.com.

George says that when he asked why he was being interviewed, the police merely said that investigators are "talking to some of Martyn's friends and acquaintances as part of the investigations." The police then reportedly added that they were simply aware that he "has been in contact with Martyn via SMS."

When the police called, George asked how they got his mobile number. "He just replied 'through our investigations,'" the blogger said. "I asked him a few times but he gave the same reply. Not many people have my mobile number. Those who do would've told me if they had been approached for my number. Nobody did."

SEAPA finds the developments troubling and suspicious, and urges the Singaporean government to drop its investigations of Martyn See and respect his right to free expression. SEAPA finds the continuing harassment of Mr. See appalling, especially as the state has not even bothered to spell out what they find so objectionable with his film.

"As far as we have seen, "Singaporean Rebel" is a responsible piece of filmmaking and journalism. It deals with a true story, a genuine issue, and something of absolute concern to Singaporeans," SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said.

SEAPA also urged Singapore to repeal its Films Act, and all state policies that restrict Singaporeans' rights to free expression. Despite its economic strength, Singapore has one of the strictest regimes for controlling news, opinion, and information in Southeast Asia. All mass media in the city-state are under the influence of the government, and the nation's leaders have routinely sued critics, journalists, and even international media giants to discourage any criticism of the government or its leaders.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

An analysis of 'party political films' by ex-journalist

Cherian George is an ex-journalist with the Straits Times and the author of Air-Conditioned Nation. He is currently an assistant professor at the National Technological University.

Cherian is also a blogger.

Singapore: New Media, Politics & the Law & Air Conditioned Nation

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In 2002, Parliament amended the Films Act to declare moving pictures to be an illegal medium for furthering any political objective. The Government's justification for such a sweeping move was basically that video is an irrational and emotional medium, and should not be exploited for political competition. The additional impact is to control a medium that has become increasingly accessible to small producers, in terms of technology and cost.

The Act bans anyone from importing, making, reproducing, exhibiting, or possessing for the purpose of distributing, a "party political film". If found guilty, the offender can be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned up to two years.

If you think there's a loophole in the "party political" label, think again. The law defines this genre to cover not only "an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore" but even any film "made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore".

Although the old-fashioned term "film" is used, the Act defines this medium broadly, to include not just celluloid, but also digital material that can be displayed "as wholly or partly visual moving pictures". This seems to cover CD-ROMs with some video content, streaming video on the internet, and so on.

So, at its broadest, the Act bans anyone from having anything to do with showing any moving images intended to further any political cause.

The only apparent wiggle-room is in the intentions of the offenders. First, the phrase "directed towards" any political end suggests that the political effect of the film must be intentional. Second, a person is said to commit an offence if he distributes or shows a film "knowing or having reasonable cause to believe" that the film is party-political.

Therefore, it looks as if the Act is not meant to catch the filmmaker who makes a political film by accident (which could happen if a film’s message is exploited for political ends after it is made - for example, Jack Neo's "The Best Bet" could be screened to serve an anti-casino platform during an election, even if such use wasn't Neo's original intent; in such a scenario, Neo would probably be safe). In addition, distributors oblivious to the content of a film could plead ignorance.

It should also be pointed out that the Act does not appear to make it an offence to watch a party political film, or to possess a copy for personal use. This is in keeping with the Singapore authorities' broad approach to censorship, which is to tackle producers and distributors, rather than go after individual consumers.

That's what the Act says. In a letter to the media in May 2005, the information ministry (MICA) clarified how it would interpret the Act's provisions. MICA said that "it is not true that all films with political themes will be disallowed".

"The ban here is only on films which deal with political issues in a partisan manner, such as a film aimed at furthering the cause of a political party or influencing the outcome of an election, or which presents a one-sided view of political issues of the day. Unbiased reporting of political issues on film would not be unlawful," MICA's letter said.

MICA also restated the official rationale for the ban: " 'Party political films' are disallowed because they are an undesirable medium for political debate in Singapore. They can present political issues in a sensational manner, evoking emotional rather than rational reactions, without affording the opportunity for a meaningful rebuttal or explanation to audience and viewers."

In principle, the legislation applies equally to the ruling party and to the Opposition. However, it disadvantages the Opposition disproportionately, for two reasons.

First, with government-supervised mainstream media already biased towards the ruling party, the Opposition is more dependent than the PAP on alternative channels such as video (and the internet). Second, the PAP's ideological dominance is such that much of its platform now sounds like "common sense" rather than patently "political". Furthermore, being the government of the day allows it to couch its messages as ostensibly apolitical "national education". Thus, while a video biography of JB Jeyaretnam would probably fall foul of the Films Act as furthering a "political end", a video biography of Lee Kuan Yew would be regarded by regulators as part of the Singapore story.

(Correction : The Films Act was amended in 1998, and not 2002 as stated by Cherian above)

Friday, September 23, 2005

'Singapore Rebel' witchhunt?

Some things you and I should know about this rather troubling turn of events.

- Other than Jacob George, another friend, a leading Singaporean filmmaker at that, was called up and was interviewed by ASP Chan Peng Kuang on Monday. I had known who she was but I had wanted to respect her privacy. A young journalist at TODAY apparently went ahead and got the scoop. Watch for the report later today.

- I have not been told exactly why 'Singapore Rebel' was deemed a party political film. Was the film intended for a political end? Did it contain biased references to political issues? Was it an advertisement made for a political organisation? Neither MDA nor the police has told me the exact reason for its classification.

- 'Singapore Rebel' contains not a single mention of 'SDP' or 'Singapore Democratic Party.' The only political party mentioned is the PAP. In my view, it had potrayed Chee Soon Juan as an activist isolated by his own deliberate acts of civil disobedience. But of course this is a totally subjective view, and others who have seen it will harbour diametrically opposite interpretations, and hence it brings into question what constitutes a 'biased reference' in the first place, and also who gets to decide what is 'party political film.' Was the labelling of 'Singapore Rebel' as a PPF a decision made by a commitee or by one individual at the Media Development Authority? And how did he (or they) arrive at his (or their) decision?

- The report below does not contain any statement from the police. Surely the Straits Times must verify with Home Affairs that Jacob George was indeed called up, and the other obvious question is why the need to tap my mobile phone, if indeed it's been tapped.

- On a separate note, I am currently researching for my next short film - on an ex-detainee. And I will probably spend a lot of time hanging out with him, like I did with Chee Soon Juan. But the film will ultimately be my vision, not his or anybody else's. Hopefully, all of you will get to see it, legally of course.

Martyn See


Film probe : Activist called for interview

STRAITS TIMES, 22 Sept 2005

The police have called political activist Jacob George, 36, for an interview in connection with the ongoing invetigations into filmmaker Martyn See's documentary, Singapore Rebel.

Mr George said on his Internet blog that he received the phone call on his cellphone on Monday afternoon.

An assistant superintendent of police explained to him that he was talking to friends and acquaintances of Mr See.

No date has been fixed for the interview, he added, but said it would likely be next week.

Mr See's 26-minute documentary chronicles several of the political activities of opposition Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan.

Making a party political film is an offence under the Films Act, which bans the making or distribution of such films, including advertisement by political parties or other political organisations, or films "directed towards any political end in Singapore".

If found guilty, a filmmaker can be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $100,000.

But Mr See, 36, has not been charged with any offence.

Mr George said in his blog that the police officer who called him mentioned that he got his number through their investigations, and Mr George had been in contact with Mr See through SMS.

He told The Straits Times yesterday he had a "very short, pleasant conversation" with the officer, during which he said he had nothing to do with Singapore Rebel.

The film was withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival in March after the Board of Film Censors found it objectionable. The board then made a report to the police.

The Media Development Authority said the board had made the report as making a party political film is an offence.

Last month, after a three hour-long interview with the police, Mr See was asked to surrender his tapes and video camera.

On Tuesday, Mr See wrote in his blog: "Not only am I unable to speak freely on my own phone, the police is now closing in on individuals who are totally unconnected with the making of Singapore Rebel."

Local film-makers questioned

POLICE questioned Singapore film-maker Tan Pin Pin on Monday in an ongoing investigation into Martyn See's documentary on Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Mr Chee Soon Juan.
The authorities began investigating the documentary Singapore Rebel after the Board of Film Censors lodged a complaint that it had breached the Films Act.
Apart from the Ms Tan and the documentary's producer, Mr See, police have also questioned Mr Jacob George, formerly from the Think Centre.
Making a party political film is an offence under the Films Act, which bans the making or distribution of such films, including advertisements by political parties or other political organisations, or films "directed towards any political end in Singapore". The offence carries a jail term of up to two years or a fine up to $100,000. Mr See, however, has not been charged with any offence.
Ms Tan, who received international acclaim for her documentary Singapore GaGa, was the representative signatory for 10 film-makers who wrote a letter to The Straits Times forum page in May this year.
The 10 wanted to know where the OB markers lay for what the government deemed as "political film-making".
Ms Tan declined comment last night. — Vinita Ramani

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blogger listed on Martyn See's phone called up by police over Singapore Rebel

The police has intesified investigations against me by calling up blogger Jacob George whose number is listed on my mobile. The walls are closing in. Not only am I unable to speak freely on my own phone, the police is now closing in on individuals who are totally unconnected with the making of 'Singapore Rebel.'

Martyn See

News alert from omekanahuria.blogspot.com/

A call from the police

About 12.15pm yesterday, I received a call from an ASP Chan of the Singapore Police Force. He requested an interview with me with regards to the ongoing investigations into the documentary, Singapore Rebel, by Martyn See.

I asked the ASP why he wanted to talk to me. He replied that he's talking to some of Martyn's friends and acquaintances as part of the investigations. He mentioned that I've been in contact with Martyn via SMS.

When the ASP called, I asked him how he got my mobile number. He just replied "through our investigations". I asked him a few times but he gave the same reply. Not many people have my mobile number. Those who do would've told me if they had been approached for my number. Nobody did.

We will probably meet next week.

Like I've written so many times before, it's not as if the documentary was a training video for the JI terrorist group!!

This unneccessary investigation is being taken to ridiculous levels.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

17 year old to face sedition charges

"In regulating the Internet, the MDA adopts a balanced and light-touch approach..The MDA also encourages industry self-regulation and public education efforts to complement its light-touch regulatory approach."
- Media Development Authority

Just 17, hate blogger charged

17 Sept 2005

JUST four days after two men were charged with making racist remarks online, another blogger has joined their ranks.
This one is only 17, but his remarks appeared to be at least as virulent as those made by the two men charged on Monday.
Gan Huai Shi appeared in court on Friday, faced with seven charges under the Sedition Act for remarks he made between April 4 and July 16 this year.
The target of his ire were Malays and Muslims.
In some astonishing rants, he compared them to "rodents".
He claimed he wanted to blow up Muslim holy sites and wrote that "the Malays must be eliminated before it is too late".
He made insulting remarks about the community, most of which are not fit for publication. In his first entry Gan claimed that he was "extremely racist".
Like Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, and Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, Gan faces charges under the Sedition Act where conviction under the first charge could result in up to three years' jail and subsequent offences up to five years.
There have been concerns in many quarters that the Internet, which started as a platform for free speech, has, in some cases, evolved into a space for racist rants.
Observers have pointed out that recent actions taken by the authorities could rein in such outpourings. — Loh Chee Kong


When was the Sedition Act last used in Singapore?

Like many of the security laws in Singapore and Malaysia, including the one that allows for detention without trial, the Sedition Act was first passed by the Malayan Government under the British colonialists. Today, both countries still carries the legislation.

While the Malaysian Government regularly invokes the Sedition Act, which MM Lee Kuan Yew himself was almost a casualty 40 years ago, and still used today against the likes of Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today and blogger Jeff Ooi, it is unclear when the Sedition Act was last used in Singapore.

And then I came across this deft piece of research at mykel-ism.blogspot.com

"According to "Mallal's Digest : Legislation Citator, 1932 to 2003", a respected collection of all legal cases in Singapore and Malaysia published by the Malayan Law Journal in 2004, Singapore has not made use of the Sedition Act from 1965 to 2003. I suspect the charge of our 2 protagonists on Monday to be the first case in our nation's history. It's also interesting to note that the Undesirable Publications Act (Cap 338) and MDA content regulations were not used. The choice of the Sedition Act thus reveals the intention for calibrated coercion on the PAP's part.

Thus, the issue at hand is thus NOT about the boundaries of free speech in cyberspace, it is NOT about whether our two protagonists are bloggers or not, NOR is it the issue about the maintenance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore.

Rather, as Xenoboy contends, the use of the Sedition Act represents a symbolic dialogue between ruling party PAP and the Singaporean blogosphere. It is indicative of the surveillance present on the internet medium and the PAP's willingness to crush both offline and online dissenting views when the need arises.

The stakes are higher this time."

posted by mykel at mykel-ism.blogspot.com

Friday, September 16, 2005

Power to the people?

Say you want a revolution
We better get on right away
Well you get on your feet
And out on the street

Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

- John Lennon

States 'not run by people's will'

Sixty-five percent of citizens across the world do not think their country is governed by the will of the people, a poll commissioned by the BBC suggests.

The Gallup International Voice of the People 2005 poll questioned more than 50,000 people in 68 states for the BBC World Service survey about power.

Only in Scandinavia and South Africa do the majority believe that they are ruled according to their wishes.

But 47% thought elections in their countries were free and fair.

The figure is 55% for the US and Canada and up to 82% in EU countries - but just 24% in West Africa.

The survey also found that only 13% of people trusted politicians and only 16% thought they should be given more power.

About a third of those asked thought more power should go to writers and academics.

A quarter felt more should go to religious leaders - who are also seen as the most trusted group.

A fifth of those asked thought military, business leaders and journalists should be given more power.

Other key findings include:

Family exerts the greatest single influence on people

Sixty-one percent said a partner or family member has most influenced decisions about their life in the past year.

In Mexico, the figure is 88%. The lowest rating for family influence comes from North America (35%), where people report a wider range of influences, especially religious leaders (12%).

There is a wide gap between the developed and developing world on the degree to which people feel they can control their lives
Least control is felt in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and the former Soviet bloc.

The highest scores are in Latin America (65%), followed by Canada and the US (62%) and Europe (53%).

National identity is still strong
Nationality was used by a third of those surveyed to 'define' themselves. About a fifth chose religion.

The sense of nationality is strongest in Latin America (54%).

Religion gained the highest scores in Africa (56%), followed by the US and Canada (32%).

Wealth 'empowers' East Asians

By Bethan Jinkinson
BBC News

East Asians from wealthy countries are more likely to feel they have control over their lives, a new poll suggests.

Those from South Korea, Japan and Singapore feel they have the most power to alter their own destiny.

In contrast, those surveyed in Vietnam, one of East Asia's poorest countries, feel there is very little they can do to change their own lives.

Gallup International questioned nearly 9,000 people in East Asia for the BBC's Who Runs Your World? survey.

Respondents were asked who had power over their lives, who they trust and if they have the power to change their own lives.

The BBC World Service commissioned the Gallup International Voice of the People 2005 poll of more than 50,000 people in 68 countries.

Nationalism is an important part of the East Asian identity: More than a third of those surveyed found it more important than religion, ethnicity or continent.

In South Korea, 73% of respondents considered their nationality more important than anything else.

Lack of trust

In terms of who they trust, East Asians are more likely to look up to intellectuals, journalists and religious leaders than the military and business elite.

That is apart from the Japanese, who appear to trust virtually no-one.

Over 70% of the Japanese surveyed do not trust either military, religious, business or political leaders - perhaps surprising when you consider the fact that the ruling Liberal Democratic party has been in power almost continuously for the last 50 years.

Democracy does not appear to be alive and well in the region.

Fewer than 30% of East Asians believe that their country is governed by the will of its people.

This is even more remarkable when you consider that people from some of the least democratic countries - such as Burma, North Korea and China - were unable to take part in the survey.


I don't believe in magic,
I don't believe in I-ching,
I don't believe in bible,
I don't believe in tarot,
I don't believe in Hitler,
I don't believe in Jesus,
I don't believe in Kennedy,
I don't believe in Buddha,
I don't believe in mantra,
I don't believe in Gita,
I don't believe in yoga,
I don't believe in kings,
I don't believe in Elvis,
I don't believe in Zimmerman,
I don't believe in Beatles,
I just believe in me,
Yoko and me,
And that's reality.
The dream is over,
What can I say?
The dream is over,

- John Lennon

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dog lovers' racial rants may have threatened national security

"In regulating the Internet, the MDA adopts a balanced and light-touch approach..The MDA also encourages industry self-regulation and public education efforts to complement its light-touch regulatory approach."

- Media Development Authority

Dog lovers' Internet remarks earn Singaporean sedition charges

Two men in Singapore have been charged with sedition, and face jail terms for making anti-Muslim remarks on the Internet.

The case was triggered when a local Muslim woman complained about uncaged dogs travelling in Singapore taxis, and leaving behind drool and dirt.

In a letter to the editor of the Straits Times newspaper, she pointed out that contact with dog saliva is prohibited for many Muslims.

A 25-year-old Chinese man responded with allegedly anti-Muslim remarks on a dog lovers' website.

Police say a second man who works at a dog kennel made an expletive-filled posting about the Muslim woman on his personal website.

In Singapore, political and religious Internet content is closely monitored.

Ever since race riots in the 1960s, the local authorities have regarded racial harmony as a fundamental social principle.

Under the Sedition Act, both men face a maximum penalty of three years jail and a fine.

Other Links

Two charged over online racist rants
2 arrested over racist blogs
Singaporeans face jail terms over dog commentsDog comments on net are sedition
2 charged with making racist remarks on Net
Two Singapore men charged with seditious remarks aimed at Malay community

What constitutes a 'seditious tendency'?

Seditious tendency.
3. (1) A seditious tendency is a tendency -

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;

(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency -

(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;

(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;

(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or

(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.

4 (1) Any person who -

(a) does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act which has or which would, if done, have a seditious tendency;

(b) utters any seditious words;

(c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; or

(d) imports any seditious publication,

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years; and any seditious publication found in the possession of that person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

(2) Any person who without lawful excuse has in his possession any seditious publication shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 18 months or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years, and such publication shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Eric Khoo's movie poster banned

No gay or lesbian images please, we're Singaporeans.

Singapore bans "lesbian" movie poster for Cannes-exhibited film

Agence France Presse
September 7, 2005

SINGAPORE'S media watchdog said Wednesday, Sept 7, that it banned the original promotional posters for a critically acclaimed local film for depicting "lesbian intimacy" between the main actresses.
However, the movie Be With Me which received good reviews at the Cannes Film Festival was approved uncut and will be screened locally from Thursday with a rating of M18, meaning viewers must be at least 18 years old.

"One of the guidelines states that posters must not depict or promote homosexual or lesbian intimacy," a spokeswoman from the Media Development Authority said in reply to queries from AFP.

"As such, the distributor was advised to use alternative visuals," she said.

The original poster depicted a scene from the movie with the two main actresses locked in an embrace.

It has been replaced instead by an image of a man necking with one of the actresses.

Be With Me is the latest movie by influential local film maker Eric Khoo and contains three plots, one of which involves love between two teenage schoolgirls.

Khoo told the New Paper tabloid Wednesday that he was "disappointed" the original posters did not pass the censors.

"There's nothing in the image or the film that shows anything graphic or raunchy," Khoo was quoted as saying.

The movie was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May where it was reported to have received good reviews from international critics. It is to be released internationally after Singapore.

Despite a tradition of censorship here, a nascent independent film industry is emerging in Singapore touching on previously taboo topics, but politically-oriented films remain heavily restricted.

An independent Singaporean film maker, Martyn See, is under police investigation for making a documentary about an opposition leader.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Activist files complaint against national broadcaster

Agence France Presse
September 2, 2005

A SINGAPOREAN activist has filed a police complaint against national broadcaster MediaCorp for allegedly violating the island's Films Act banning political advertising using film or video.
The complaint, filed by Yap Keng Ho, accuses MediaCorp of screening two programs about ruling People's Action Party leaders and is meant as a protest against Singapore's stringent censorship, Yap said.

Yap told AFP Friday, Sept 2, he wanted to expose a pro-ruling party bias in the legislation banning political films with his complaint, which comes as police investigate independent Singaporean film maker Martyn See for making a documentary about an opposition leader.

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos, as well as movies directed towards any political end such as promoting parties.

"I feel that it is a very unfair and biased legislation," Yap, a 44-year-old information technology consultant, told AFP. "I want to show the world whether law enforcement (in Singapore) is going to be fair or not."

Yap's complaint alleges that MediaCorp had violated the Films Act by screening two programs in 2002 and this year featuring Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, respectively.

A spokesman for the Singapore police confirmed they received the complaint "and are currently making the necessary checks with the Media Development Authority (MDA)."

A spokesman for MediaCorp said they were unaware of Yap's complaint.

On Monday, filmmaker See surrendered to police his camera and remaining tapes of the documentary "Singapore Rebel" about Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

Chee, the most vocal opposition politician in Singapore, is facing bankruptcy after the High Court ordered him to pay S$500,000 (US$300,000) for defaming PAP leaders.

Affluent Singapore has often been criticised by human rights groups for maintaining strict political controls despite its rapid modernisation since becoming a republic 40 years ago last month. Singapore has been ruled by the PAP since independence.

Minister happy with 147th press freedom ranking and political film ban

Some Singaporeans are "not sufficiently discerning", so we should continue to ban 'political' films, says the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) Dr Lee Boon Yang.

Below is an excerpt of the article published by the Straits Times on August 5, 2005.

Media Freedom

SINGAPORE was recently ranked 147th out of 167 countries on the press freedom index.

But it is not something that Dr Lee loses sleep over.

Singapore has developed a "different model for its media" - one that "worked well over the years".

He is confident that Singaporeans find local media "credible".

"Singaporeans find the newspapers, whether it's the Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao or Business Times or other newspapers, highly respected newspapers. If the Singapore newspapers are not credible, I don't see them being around for so long.

"Now if Singaporeans do not trust our newspaper, don't forget we have in circulation in Singapore today 4,500 foreign publications. They will turn more and more to alternative sources.

"And yet Straits Times is able to preserve its readership amidst all this challenge and continues to grow. So I take it as a strong endorsement, as a sign of its relevance and credibility to the society."

As for the Government's policy on censorship, he says: "Censorship should be in tandem with a society's development and evolution of social norms. The guidelines change as society changes."

Do the arts and media - as opinion leaders - have a role in pushing social boundaries?

"Certainly there's some truth in it that the arts, film, cultural practitioners are there to experiment and push the norms. Yes, I accept that.

"But the Government should not join them in pushing it up rapidly at the expense of the vast majority not yet comfortable with such an avant garde approach."

And even as Singapore evolves, he stresses, there are certain fundamentals that do not - and cannot - change. "We're a young nation, multiracial, multi-religious; there are always weak points in our society that can be exploited."

This concern about the faultlines in Singapore's young society is behind the ban on political videos.

Film and video are "emotional media" that "can arouse all kinds of reactions without an opportunity for the rebuttal to be made effectively."

Aren't Singaporeans mature enough to discern?

"I think that Singapore people are intelligent and mature. And I think they can make their own judgement.

"But there may some who are not sufficiently discerning and if one day something goes wrong, then we will have to repair the damage."

Negative articles on the Government, on the other hand, are "part of the democratic debate."

But it will be "unhealthy for the media to emabark on crusading journalism".

Whom do these curbs benefit?

"I'm saying it's for Singapore, not for the ruling party alone, not for the Government. You're helping Singaporeans be better prepared for a world that is going to be more challenging."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Police report made against ChannelNewsAsia

Aug 30, 2005

Mr Yap Keng Ho aka Uncle Yap, an activist in Singapore, made a police report today against CNA. Uncle Yap is asking the police to look into two programmes by the state-controlled local broadcaster ChannelNewsAsia or CNA, Success Stories and Up Close. These programmes can also be considered "party political films" under the Films Act. (Read my earlier post Keep up the good work MDA!)

Martyn See, a local filmmaker is being investigated by the police for his 26 minute documentary Singapore Rebel about Chee Soon Juan.

Read more

Complaint lodged against MediaCorp for showing political films
30 Aug 05

Internet activist Mr Yap Keng Ho has lodged a police report to complain against the production and/or screening of political films regarding PAP leaders.

Mr Yap made the report at the Tampines Neighbourhood Police Centre today, citing that two films, Success Story which portrayed Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Up Close which featured five PAP ministers including Mr Lee Hsien Loong, were screened on Channel News Asia in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

The complaint comes at a time when the police are investigating Mr Martyn See for making a film about Dr Chee Soon Juan, which the Media Development Authority has said is “political” in nature and therefore a violation of the Films Act.

Mr Yap said in his report that the screening of the political documentaries of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP ministers likewise contravened the Films Act and has asked the police to investigate the matter.

Read more