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  • That I'm standing by my original position that Section 33 and Section 35 should be repealed unconditionally, completely and immediately.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they cannot stop people from posting political videos online makes it even more imperative that Section 33 and 35 be repealed unconditionally and completely.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?


Anonymous said...

It amuses me how you change the title of your blog to fit in with the times lol.

Best of luck for your two films's resubmittion...

Anonymous said...

thank you for re-submitting the films.

no doubt, this will be the acid test that the govt will fail miserably.

guan zi lian ke kou... hehehe

Anonymous said...

Hi Martyn, Just want to say that I admire you a lot for your courage in the face of prosecution, your steadfastness in stand up for what you believe in, and your remarkable efforts in honoring people unjustly silenced to the masses who ought to know. I totally agree with all your viewpoints. Here are some of mine to add on.

Dr Lee however said that “There is a difference from giving such films the privilege to circulate freely in Singapore, to saying that those who want to watch it, you go to the dark reaches of the Internet and watch it.” I think those of us who are Internet-literate are scratching our heads wondering where the “dark reaches of the Internet” are.The last I heard, porn was banned in Singapore. The last I checked, every male above 13 has Internet porn at home.

Words like “the dark reaches of the Internet” would probably be respected by some readers of the print media, because the fact is, most readers today still fall into the generation who fear the internet, and are not savvy with its power. Given that the Gen Y and beyond feel more comfortable shouting online than off, I think it's a matter of time that the online community we see to day would be representative of the majority rather than the minority.

I think (could be very wrong here, given your experiences, so please correct me) what’s making their laws societally accepted and effective right now, is not the State’s ability to enforce the law, but the ignorance and apathy that the older generation have towards the internet, that is according the State this power.

Actually it's really strange because I didn't really know much about your films (totally because I'm quite an ulu person), but the coverage given on yesterday's press articles made me curious enough to come to your site. And I'm gonna be telling more of my friends all about you, via my blog and facebook.