Saturday, February 16, 2008

Censorship under the PAP : 1959 - 2008

Below is a summary of a list compiled here by Ng Yi-Sheng. As Ng himself noted, it is by no means exhaustive, as many cases of censorship in Singapore often get swept under the rug as artists fear more repercussions (such as withdrawal of State funding) should they blow the whistle.

See also : A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore.

  • 2008: The Complaints Choir Project is invited to Singapore as part of the M1 Fringe Festival. The MDA passes the text of the songs without cuts. However, police inform the organisers a few days before the show that no foreigners will be allowed to perform.

  • 2007: At the Singapore Design Festival's 20/20 exhibition at the National Library, Brian Gothong Tan's video installation is pulled on opening night. Tan had included a mockup trailer, which includes a shots of a girl playing a Singapore Airlines stewardess smoking cigarettes and snorting cocaine.

  • 2007: The MDA's Board of Film Censors announces that it will ban the soon-to-be-released Xbox video game Mass Effect II due to the presence of a scene of lesbian intimacy. Amidst media coverage, the decision is reversed, but reports note that two other video games have been banned earlier in the year: "God of War II" for nudity and "The Darkness" for excessive violence and religiously offensive expletives.

  • 2007: Two minutes of material are cut from Ekachai Uekrongtham's Pleasure Factory, a feature film set in Singapore's red-light district of Geylang.

  • 2007: The National Arts Council drops an essay by Jason Wee from the catalogue of Raised, an exhibition on foreign workers, featured as part of the biannual Singapore Art Show. The essay made reference to Operation Spectrum. NAC says the article "was inappropriate in the context of the project theme and the rest of the catalogue contents". To date, the article has not been published. See here and here.

  • 2007: The MDA bans Cut Sleeve Boys, a London film on gay British-Chinese men, starring Singapore-born actor Steven Lim. See here.

  • 2007: At the IndigNation Pride Festival, ten items are banned by the MDA and police authorities, including Alex Au's "Kissing", a photographic series of same-sex couples kissing; "In the Pink", a picnic at Botanical Gardens (banned by National Parks Board); and a talk by law professor Dr Douglas Sanders on homosexuality and Asian law.

  • 2007: The MDA officially bans Martyn See's Said Zahari's 17 Years, a short documentary on the imprisonment of Said Zahari, a former editor of the newspaper Utusan Melayu and long-term political detainee of Singapore.

  • 2007: The MDA bans Solos from the Singapore Film Festival. Directed by Kan Lume and Loo Zihan. The Board of Film Censors takes issue with the “prolonged and explicit homosexual lovemaking scenes including scenes of oral sex and threesome sex”.

  • 2007: SooBin Art Gallery opens a month-long exhibition showcasing the oil paintings of female Beijing artist Chen Xi. The centrepiece was to have been Fly Onto Clouds, a 4-metre high image of a nude woman covered with soapsuds, but the painting is deemed too sexually provocative by MDA, which bars the gallery from displaying the work in full public view at the gallery’s location at the ground-floor atrium of the MICA Building.

  • 2007: The MDA bans the DVD of Madonna's The Confessions Tour: Live from London, as it features the singer performing the ballad Live To Tell while suspended from a giant mirrored cross, on grounds that it is religiously insulting to Christians.
  • 2006: The MDA bans SuperStar, a book of Asian celebrity photographs by internationally-acclaimed Singapore-born photographer Leslie Kee. The rationale given is that the book features full frontal male nudity, revealing genitals and pubic hair. For more information, click here and here.

  • 2006: MDA imposes a fine of $10,000 on Singapore's only cable television operator, Starhub Cable Vision (SCV), for airing scenes of lesbian sex and bondage in the American reality TV show Cheater. SCV representatives communicated that they were disappointed with MDA's decision, and noted that no problems had arisen when the episode was aired in China, India and Indonesia.

  • 2006: The Far Eastern Economic Review publishes a sympathetic interview with opposition party leader Chee Soon Juan. MM Lee Kuan Yew and PM Lee Hsien Loong sue FEER for defamation, claiming the Review had alleged they were corrupt. For more information, click here.

  • 2006: The IMF and World Bank Meetings are held in Singapore. Due to local law, for the first time in the history of the meetings, outdoor demonstrations are banned. Indoor demonstrations are only allowed within an area in Suntec City spanning 14m by 8m. 27 accredited protesters are denied entry to Singapore and are forced to leave the country as police claim they have been involved in violent demonstrations; when WB/IMF officials object, 22 of these 27 are eventually permitted to enter the country.

  • 2006: At the time of the IMF meetings, three local activists, including the 20 year-old guitarist Seelan Palay, are detained for two days and have their computers seized for planning to distribute anti-globalisation flyers. They are investigated under the Printing and Processing Materials Act, which states that those in posession of materials that contain "any incitement to violence or counselling disobedience to the law" could be jailed up to 3 years, fined, or both. Police also confiscate flyers from opposition politician Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin, who were distributing them to advertise an Empower Singaporeans Rally and March.

  • 2006: Political podcasting and videocasting is banned during the election period. All bloggers who desire to "persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore" are required to register with the MDA. Nonetheless, the Internet becomes a strong force for political discussion during this period, and no penalties are suffered when the "Persistently non-political podcast" of the mrbrown show satirises the PAP's treatment of opposition candidate James Gomez.

  • 2006: Smegma, an English-language play by Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) is denied performance in a strange sequence of events. Despite the issuance of the licence on 1 August, the licence is suddenly annulled the MDA on 5 August, the day of performance.

  • 2006: On 30 June, blogger mrbrown writes an article, titled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!", for his weekly opinion column in Today newspaper concerning the rising costs of living in Singapore. An official from MICA publishes a response letter on the same newspaper calling mrbrown a "partisan player" whose views "distort the truth". On July 6, the newspaper suspends mrbrown's column. To express protest, 30 people gather in Raffles City wearing brown in a "flashmob" demonstration orchestrated via SMS. Although this is in contravention of the Unlawful Assemblies Act, no-one is charged.

  • 2006: Filmmakers Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen are forced to remove trailers of Singapore Dreaming from television due to their heavy use of Singlish. The Board of Censors also requires the filmmakers to dub over all Hokkien vulgarities from the film. An interview here.

  • 2006: At the annual IndigNation festival on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, two artworks are censored by the MDA. Poet Koh Jee Leong is prevented from reading aloud a poem entitled "Come On, Straight Boy", on the grounds that it encourages gay sex. MDA places an R(A) rating on the exhibition Shitlosophy: Everybody Shits and removes four photographs. For more information, click here.

  • 2005: Singaporean director Martyn See is forced to remove his debut documentary film Singapore Rebel from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival due to his violation of the Films Act section pertaining o political films. See withdraws the film because he faces a $100,000 fine and a two-year jail sentence imposed by the Singapore Board of Censors.

  • 2005: MDA withholds the license for the play Human Lefts by the Fun Stage until the group rewrites portions of their script; specifically, references to the death penalty. The play was originally written about the hanging of Shanmugam Murugesu and was to have been staged one day after the controversial execution of Australian national Nguyen Tuong Van.

  • 2005: Hung at Dawn, a Substation concert in commemoration of former national athlete Shanmugam 'Sam' Murugesu, who was executed for marijuana dealing on Friday May 13. Police ban the use of Sam's face on publicity materials, as this would be tantamount to "glorifying" an "ex-convict" and "executed person". From here.

  • 2005: Chen Jianhao, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is made to apologise and shut down his blog containing criticisms on government agency A*STAR, after its Chairman Philip Yeo threatens to sue for defamation. Also, three bloggers are arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments on the Internet; two are sentenced to imprisonment.

  • 2005: The gay website is banned in October. Another gay website,, is fined $5,000 by the MDA and forced to remove "offensive" content. Click here for more information.

  • 2004: The Economist magazine pays US$230,000 in damages to PM Lee Hsien Loong and his father MM Lee Kuan Yew, and apologises "unreservedly" for an August article that noted "a whiff of nepotism" in the appointment of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, as chief executive of a government investment company.

  • 2004: A new series of anti-gay initiatives ultimately culminates in the banning of the "Snowball" and "Nation" gay parties. Manazine, a gay-oriented magazine, is told to "tone down" its "overtly homosexual content" and subsequently ceases production. A forum called "The Lovers' Lecture Series" is denied a license. The gay Taiwanese movie Formula 17 is banned.

  • 2003: Royston Tan's short film 15, on teenage gangsters in Singapore, suffers from 27 cuts from the Board of Censors. Among the objections raised are that scenes depict gangsterism, truancy, self-mutilation, delinquency, Hokkien rap and the Esplanade. The film is eventually released with an R(A) rating.

  • 2003 : Following a report in Today newspaper on the trauma of SM Lee Kuan Yew in London after his wife had suffered a stroke, an advisor to Mr Lee reprimands Today editor Mano Sabnani for allowing the report to be published. The young journalist who wrote the story, Val Chua, reportedly has her press card suspended. From here.
  • 2003 : The police reject three applications by a White Ribbon Campaign group to stage outdoor events to mark the International Day Against Violence Against Women. Police first deny the group a permit for a march - and later turn down its application to hold a children's drama presentation - because such events may threaten "law and order." The group then apply to hold an outdoor children's choir performance, but that is also rejected. From here.

  • 2002: Causeway, a Malay language play by Teater Ekamatra is censored by NAC, which expresses concern over a scene where a Malaysian character has the final say on a debate with a Singaporean character over the tudung issue.

  • A documentary on opposition politician J. B. Jeyaretnam, called A Vision of Persistence, is withdrawn from Singapore International Film Festival. Lecturers and students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who made the video, are warned that the Political Videos Act could be used against them.

  • 2002: Escape from Paradise, a bestselling book by John and May Chu Harding, is withdrawn from bookstores and libraries. Enquiries reveal that the book was removed due to threats of legal action by Helen Yeo, a Singapore lawyer and wife of former Cabinet Minister Yeo Cheow Tong, as her firm had been mentioned in conjunction with an illegal house sale. Click here for more information.
  • 2002 : UnionWorks' Mandarin radio station is fined $15,000 for adding "injections of personal remarks and observations by the newsreader, which were unwarranted in normal news bulletins," said the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA). From here.

  • 2002: The zany Hollywood comedy Zoolander is banned in both Singapore and Malaysia for its fictional depiction of Malaysia as impoverished and dependent on sweatshops. The ban is lifted in 2006.

  • 2001: Sintercom, a non-partisan Internet website set up by Tan Chong Kee, closes in response to the Singapore Broadcasting Authority demanding that the site be gazetted as a political website that "engages in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues relating to Singapore." Sintercom had been one of the first websites where Singaporeans could exchange political opinions.

  • 2001 : Police arrest internet critic Robert Ho Chong at his home after being charged with an offence punishable by up to three years in jail. The 51-year-old former journalist posted articles before the general elections urging opposition candidates to enter polling stations, as did the PAP leaders in the 1997 elections. The police classified Ho's article as an attempt to incite violence or disobedience to the law that was likely to lead to a breach of peace. From here.

  • 2000: Agni Koothu's English-language run of playwright/director Elangovan's play Talaq is banned for its depiction of marital violence in the Indian-Muslim community. The Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) has no objections to manager S. Thenmoli seeking to document the rehearsal at the Drama Centre, where she had made a paid booking. However, on her arrival, the then Executive Director of NAC calls the police in for alleged trespassing, resulting in a four-hour standoff ending in S. Thenmoli's arrest.

  • 2000: National Arts Council pulls out funding for a production of Drama Box's Mandarin play Vaginalogue, protesting against the use of the image of a vagina in the play.

  • 2000: Speaker’s Corner opens at Hong Lim Park. The Straits Times reports that "the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park is a place where Singapore citizens can speak freely in public without having to apply for a Public Entertainment License", although speakers must apply for a permit at the nearby police post first and are forbidden from discussing racially or religiously seditious issues. A year later, James Gomez, commemorating the Corner’s first year anniversary, says, "The only thing which has grown at Speaker's Corner is the grass."

  • 2000 : A Radio Corporation Singapore (RCS) radio report on a Human Rights Day event at Speakers Corner was re-edited after the first report went on air containing comments by JB Jeyaretnam and a letter by Kofi Annan. Shortly after, a spokesperson for RCS said that the journalist Fauziah Ibrahim had "resigned." From here.

  • 1999: sex.violence.blood.gore by The Necessary Stage, receives 3 cuts to the script for being "racially/religiously inflammatory". The decision by PELU is delivered one day before the play opens. The play is eventually performed and the censored portions photocopied and distributed to audience members.

  • 1999: In the heat of the moment, lead guitarist and vocalist of the Boredphucks, San Singer (aka Sanjeev Veloo), utters a Hokkien expletive during a performance at the Youthpark. He is consequently charged with offending the decency of women and violating the Public Entertainment Act. Although the charges are later dropped, Singer, along with Boredphuck's bassist, JBoss, and drummer, Wayne Thunder are suddenly not permitted to play live in Singapore.

  • 1999: The title of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is seen as too sexually graphic, and it is suggested that it be changed to "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shioked Me"; this decision is ultimately overturned in favour of the original title.

  • 1998: An amendment is made to 1981 Films Act with an introduction of the Political Videos Act, approved overwhelmingly in Parliament. In part, the vague and sweeping legislation defines a party political film as one "made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore" or one that contains "partisan or biased references on any political matter."

  • 1998: Hong Kong artist Zunzi Wang's artwork, a political cartoon featuring caricatures of then-SM Lee and PM Goh, is removed by officials from the Singapore Art Museum and destroyed just prior to the opening of ARX5. The artist is not informed until the opening.
  • 1998 : The Undesirable Publications Act is amended to include CD-ROMS, sound recordings, pictures, and computer-generated drawings, and to raise the fine for distribution or possession of banned publications. The Government also publicises the list of banned English-language publications, which is made up primarily of sexually-oriented materials, but also includes some religious and political materials. From here.

  • 1997: Singapore Broadcasting Authority issues Internet Code of Practice.

  • 1996: Singapore begins to regulate Internet usage, officially blocking a "symbolic" list of 100 sites, dealing with pornography, illegal drugs and extreme religion, including, and Click here for more information.

  • 1995: American Academic Dr Christopher Lingle's article in the International Herald Tribune, "Smoke over Parts of Asia Obscures Some Profound Concerns," states that an unnamed country uses a "compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians". SM Lee Kuan Yew files a civil libel suit. IHT pays S$213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit. Lingle is separately ordered by the courts in April to pay S$71,000 in damages, plus costs, to the Senior Minister.

  • 1995: Theatreworks stages a successful run of A Language of Their Own in New York, but is banned from staging it in Singapore as it involves a sympathetic portrayal of gay Asian relationships. It is finally performed in Singapore in 2006 and is nominated for Best Script in the Life! Theatre Awards.

  • 1994: Performance artists Josef Ng and Shannon Tham create artworks in protest against the arrest of twelve homosexual men through police entrapment. As part of their performances, Ng trims his pubic hair and Tham vomits into a bucket before an audience. The New Paper reports on this and brands the performances as vulgar and obscene; as a result, performance art without a licence is banned until 2003, and Ng and Tham are not to be given licences to exhibit art in Singapore. Click here for more information.

  • 1994: The Straits Times publishes a report associating The Necessary Stage, a theatre group in Singapore, with Marxism. One of their dramatic techniques is forum theatre, invented by Marxist theatre activist Augusto Boal, which allows audience members to intervene in plays to solve characters' problems. Although The Necessary Stage is cleared of suspicions of using forum theatre for Marxist purposes, forum theatre is banned together with performance art. (Forum Theatre has been revived by The Necessary Stage since 2001, without repercussions.)

  • 1994: PM Goh Chok Tong publicly castigates author Catherine Lim for writing two politically critical articles in the Straits Times. The PM argues that if she wants to voice her opinion on politics she should join a political party. His invocation of the concept of an invisible "out-of-bounds marker", aka OB marker, becomes a by-word among Singaporeans when discussing the problem of never knowing precisely how much free speech one has.

  • 1994: Eric Khoo's short film Pain wins him the Best Director and Special Achievement Awards at the Singapore International Film Festival. It is banned from public viewing due to its graphic violence. The ban on "Pain" is finally lifted at the 1998 Singapore Film Festival.

  • 1994: All written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society are banned. Both are publishing arms of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although ownership of Bibles published by both groups has not been outlawed, in practice Bibles have been confiscated, e.g. in 2004, when eleven individuals were detained for attempting to bring JW publications into the country from Malaysia. In such cases, no charges were filed. Click here for more information.

  • 1993: Shortly before staging, the Ministry of Health withdraws its funding from Off Centre, a play by The Necessary Stage on mental illness. MOH claims that the play misrepresents the insane. TNS stages the play with its own funding, to critical acclaim.

  • 1992: Four plays for Theatreworks's Theatre Carnival On The Hill are censored: Desmond Sim's Blood and Snow has 14 pages cut; Theresa [last name not given]'s Bra Sizes has all references to "breasts" cut; Robin Loon's Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder has its few "fucks" cut. Gung Ho Theatre's "Too Glam One", a commentary on the 1992 survey on morals, is banned for "crude and vulgar language".

  • 1989: Singapore bans Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses for its "blasphemous" depiction of the prophet Muhammad.

  • 1988: Lest the Demons Get to Me, a play by Russell Heng, is to be staged by Theatreworks for the Arts Festival Fringe, but its licence is not approved by the Ministry of Community Development, as "perhaps the theme of transvestism and transsexuality was not suitable for the event". The play is given an uncut staged reading in 1992.

  • 1986: Authorities close the Rainbow Lounge at Ming Arcade, Singapore’s first disco and live music venue, on the grounds that a member of the house band, Speedway, had made a risqué remark in Hokkien while onstage.

  • 1984: Japanese New Age musician Kitaro is barred from entry to Changi Airport because of his long hair; officials insist that in order to perform, he must first cut his hair (in keeping with a Singapore campaign from the 70s against long hair in men). Kitaro refuses and cancels his concert in Singapore.

  • 1983: In the wake of the 1979 Speak Mandarin Campaign, local radio stations are barred from airing shows in Chinese dialect from 1 January onwards, destroying the culture of dialect storytellers such as Lee Dai Soh. (Television shows in dialect had been banned a year earlier; even Hong Kong Cantonese serials had to be dubbed in Mandarin before airing.) While the ban remains largely in place today, a brief news programme conducted in different dialects has been permitted for the benefit of the elderly.

  • 1982: Cosmopolitan magazine is banned for "promoting sexual permissiveness". In 2004, the ban is lifted by the MDA, with the stipulation that the magazine must not contain exploitative sex or nudity, and must be shrink-wrapped with a label on its cover reading "unsuitable for children".

  • 1982: Ten years prior to the ban on chewing gum, S Dhanabalan complains that HDB spent $75, 000 a year removing chewing gum wads from walls and floors in housing estates. Consequently, TV commercials for chewing gum are banned.

  • 1980: The Hollywood film Saint Jack is banned. Based on Paul Theroux's novel of the same name on the sex trade in Singapore, the movie was filmed locally by director Peter Bogdanovich in 1978. The ban is lifted in 2006.

  • 1976: Theatre director Kuo Pao Kun is stripped of his citizenship and detained without trial for alleged Communist activities in a sweeping anti-leftist purge. Over his 4 1/2 years of incarceration, Kuo studies Malay and reads Shakespeare. He is released in 1980 and re-emerges as a powerful force in Singapore drama, winning the Cultural Medallion in 1990.

  • 1973: Despite the dwindling of the Singapore film industry following separation from Malaysia, Tony Yeow and James Sebastian direct Ring of Fury, a gripping kung fu action tale set in Singapore. The film is banned locally for its depiction of a gangsterism in Singapore. Its first public screening in Singapore is in 2005. See here.
  • 1971: A succession of crackdowns on newspapers. On May 2, four editors of the Nanyang Siang Pau, a reputed Mandarin newspaper, are arrested and imprisoned on charges of "fanning Chinese Chauvinism", "glamourising Communism" and for being involved in a "black operation". The newspaper will eventually cease to exist when merged with the Sin Chew Jit Poh on March 16, 1983 to form the current Lianhe Zaobao. On May 16, seven editorial staff resign from the Eastern Sun, an English-language newspaper, after Lee Kuan Yew alleges that "a certain English newspaper" is involved with black operations and is funded with loans from Communist China. On May 28, he Singapore Herald, an English-language tabloid newspaper, has its publishing license suspended by the government. The government accuses the paper of being involved in "black operations", of being funded by questionable foreign sources, of working up agitation against national policies and institutions, and of "taking on the government".

  • 1968: The Equator Art Society opens an exhibition of paintings portraying Americans as morally degraded figures; this is interpreted as being a socialist protest against Singapore's endorsement of America in the Vietnam War. The exhibition is closed within a day of opening and the President of the Society is detained; members do not submit their names of board members to the Registrar of Societies in the following years, and the Society is forced to dissolve in 1974.

  • 1965: On 30 September, less than two months after separation from Malaysia, the Managing Director of the Singapore-based Malay language newspaper Utusan Melayu is called to the Ministry of Culture to meet with the Minister and Prime Minister. He is shown a map of Malaya and is warned against reporting anything sensitive occurring below the Straits of Johor. Lee Kuan Yew presents the Director with a copy of the Sedition Act before his departure. The incident will be referred to again in 1967 when PAP MPs Rahamat bin Kenap and Othman Wok accuse the paper of printing "humiliatory articles" to cause political tension between Malaysia and Singapore. In the wake of this, Utusan Melayu shifts its Headquarters to Malaysia, where it remains, although it continues to circulate in Singapore until 1969.

  • 1959: Shortly after PAP takeover, pinball machines and jukeboxes are banned in the crackdown on "yellow culture", the decadent culture of Western imperialists. Jukeboxes are only officially legalised again in 1991. See here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Film ban hurts Singapore's press freedom

Said Zahari, a former leftist activist, sits in front of his library at his home in Kuala Lumpur.

Dear Censors, MDA and the Information Minister (whoever you may be by the time when you read this),

If Zahari's 17 Years was allowed to be screened, it would have attracted no more than an audience of 50 people crammed into some obscure arts venue. Yes, for a while, it may generate a little buzz, perhaps some debate in history classrooms. But ultimately, interest will wane, and it will end up collecting dust in the archives, and then unearthed ten years later by some researcher for his academic thesis.

It would not have generated more than 10,000 hits on google video. It would not have opened another can of worms on censorship. It certainly would not be a cause for reports such as this, this and this.

Don't shoot me or Pak Said Zahari if Singapore's reputation takes a beating over your banning of my film. You know where to point the muzzle.

With love by your true Singaporean,
See Tong Ming, Martyn

Singapore - Annual report 2008

by Reporters Without Borders

Area: 620 sq. km.
Population: 4,450,000.
Languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil.
Head of government: Lee Hsien Loong.

A “worthy” successor to his father, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has done nothing to loosen state control over the media. Journalists have a great deal more freedom to cover international news than local affairs. And a political documentary was hit by censorship.

The authorities continued their trial of strength with the magazine the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), which has been banned from distribution in the country since 2006, but which is still available online. A court in June rejected a request from the prominent Hong Kong-based monthly to be defended by a British lawyer in a “defamation” trial opened against it last year by Lee Hsien Loong and his father. The judge considered that the suit was not sufficiently “complex” for the lawyer in question. Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew took exception to an article in the FEER about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, whom it termed a “martyr of the country” because of a raft of legal proceedings he has had to face.

The opposition, particularly the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), bête noire of the regime, is rarely quoted in the media and dissident voices have to resort to using the Internet to express themselves.

The authorities in April declared a sentence of up to two years in jail and a heavy fine would be imposed on anyone suspected of possessing or broadcasting a copy of the documentary “Zahari’s 17 years”, about the 17-year imprisonment of journalist and opposition figure Said Zahari. The film-maker, Martyn See, was forced to hand over the original and copies of the documentary to the ministry of information communications and the arts. In the film, the former editor of the newspaper Utusan Melayu recounts why the government of the time, headed by the father of the current premier, arrested him in 1963 along with several of his associates, under a draconian internal security law. The ministry said “Zahari’s 17 years” threatened “public confidence in the government”. Martyn See’s films can be viewed on the Internet.

A correspondent for Reuters in Singapore, Mia Shanley was forced to reveal the source for one of her stories after two companies took action against the British news agency and the newspapers The Straits Times and The Business Times to force them to reveal the sources for articles dating back to November 2006. The courts systematically returned verdicts in favour of companies, undermining the protection of sources in the country.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Film fest disqualifies Martyn See's film

Nation Builders (above) has been disqualified as an entry to the Singapore International Film Festival Short Film Competition as it has failed to meet its entry requirements.

Festival staff Yuni Hadi told me over the phone that since the film has been circulating on the net, it no longer qualifies as a World Premiere, as stated here in its rules and regulations.

4. Entries must be World premieres and must not have been howsoever broadcasted, screened or participated in any competition/festival in Singapore or abroad

(Silly me, but I swear I read it differently two months ago)

The 14 minute film was uploaded on the net on the eve of National Day and subsequently submitted as an entry to SIFF in December 2007. It has not been publicly screened to an audience here or abroad. The disqualification means that the film will not be submitted to the Board of Film Censors.

This is my 3rd submission to the SIFF. The first, Singapore Rebel, was banned in tandem with a 15 month-long police investigation. The second, Zahari's 17 Years, was inexplicably withdrawn by the SIFF and subsequently banned a year later when I personally submit it for an exhibition licence.

As required by law, I will be submitting Nation Builders to the censors shortly. It will join Speakers Cornered, whose status is still yet unknown. (Heard it through the grapevine that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is taking over the helm at MICA at the first quarter. I should perhaps honour his appointment by submitting Nation Builders then.)

Meanwhile, SIFF is screening a Singaporean-made film about the homeless entitled Homeless FC. It is directed by Lynn and James, who made the East Timor redemption flick Passabe. Needless to say, Homeless FC isn't about the destitutes in Singapore, but in Hong Kong.