Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More ex-detainees speak out : Political violence and the abuse of the ISA in Singapore

UPDATE : Ex-ISA detainee plans to sue Malaysian govt too
MHA ignores torture allegations; claims Fernandez was detained by Malaysia
Former ISA detainee Michael Fernandez rebuts MHA
LKY Distorts Singapore History, Academic Gets Fired

DAYS after initiating legal action against the Singapore Government for damages for alleged torture, ex-detainee Michael Fernandez now plans to sue the Malaysian authorities as well.

The writ will be filed with the Malaysian High Court by this week, and will name Malaysia's Attorney-General and the Malaysian government as the defendants, according to Mr Fernandez's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi.

Its claims will be similar to those in a writ filed against Singapore's Attorney-General on Thursday last week, namely that Mr Fernandez, 77, was subjected to 'severe physical and mental torture, humiliation and loss of income' during his detention from 1964 to 1973.

At the time of Mr Fernandez's arrest in September 1964, Singapore was part of Malaysia. Singapore left Malaysia in August 1965.

Mr Ravi said at a press conference yesterday that Malaysian law firm K. Selva Barathy and Associates would be filing the writ with the Malaysian High Court.

Mr Ravi added that complaints would also be lodged with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and with the Malaysian representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, prominent lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

As for the Singapore writ, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers confirmed yesterday that it has been served the writ. It now has eight days to indicate whether it will contest the suit.

Mr Fernandez was a leftist activist in the 1960s.

He was detained under the Internal Security Act on grounds that he was part of the Communist United Front, an appendage of the Communist Party of Malaya.

MHA rebuts claims of ex-ISA detainee

Ex-detainee Michael Fernandez sues Government
Former ISA detainee seeks damages against Singapore government
Michael Fernandez files writ against Government
Breaking news: Former ISA detainee plans to sue Singapore Government
Former ISA detainee wants to sue Govt for damages : Straits Times

There are three things you need to know about Singapore.

1. The only political violence that has happened in the last 45 years in Singapore are the ones inflicted on political prisoners behind the walls of the Internal Security Department.

Links :
Political detention in Singapore : Prisoner case histories
The ISA as a political tool
Life in Singapore's political prisons

Surviving long-term detention without trial
Detention of journalists and lawyers under the ISA
A detainee remembers

2. The Internal Security Act has been abused (to serve political ends) more often than it has been used appropriately (to safeguard national security).

23 years after Operation Spectrum : Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses

I'll forgive Lee Kuan Yew if he admits to his error and apologises to me : Lim Hock Siew

3. The people and the institution responsible for the political violence and the abuse of ISA are still in power today. Open discussions on such topics remained sensitive, and even outlawed, in Singapore.

Zahari's 17 Years - rated PG by censors, banned by Minister
Ex-detainee Vincent Cheng barred from speaking in history seminar
Here we go again - Govt bans another Martyn See's film
Operation Spectrum forum cancelled
Police retracts licence request after Minister queried
Zahari's 17 Years remains banned : MICA

Ex-political prisoner speaks out in Singapore (Banned in Singapore) from sotong on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We'll adopt "light touch" approach for online videos : MDA

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has replied to my letter in the Straits Times forum.

Dec 16, 2010
Online videos: When MDA will use classification

WE REFER to Mr Martyn See's letter, ('Can political parties directly upload videos online?; Dec 9).

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has generally taken a 'light- touch' approach with regard to the Internet and not mandated that all Internet content providers (ICPs) send their uploaded films to MDA for classification.

This is also the case with Mr See, whose blog has several films that have not been submitted to MDA.

The MDA will, however, direct ICPs to submit films - for which there may be content concerns - to it for classification, if such films are raised to its attention. ICPs who are unsure should similarly submit their films to MDA.

In the case of Mr See's film, Lim Hock Siew, it was submitted to MDA for classification and subsequently gazetted as a prohibited film. Consequently, MDA asked Mr See to surrender all copies of the film in his possession and to take down all digital copies of the film that he had uploaded onto the Internet.

Amy Chua (Ms)
Director, Media Content & Standards,
Media Development Authority

I reckon for some, MDA's letter may raise more questions than answers. So in this regard I shall attempt to spell out the dos and donts in the form of a Q&A format.

Q: So it's now legal to produce, reproduce or import videos and upload them directly onto the internet?

A : No, technically it is still illegal. Under section 14 of the Films Act, it states that 'every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board (of Film Censors) without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship'.

Q : What is the definition of "film" under the law?

A : Here's the definition of "film" under the Films Act:

Film" means —
(a) any cinematograph film;
(b) any video recording, including a video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game;
(c) any other material record or thing on which is recorded or stored for immediate or future retrieval any information that, by the use of any computer or electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or displayed as wholly or partly visual moving pictures,
and includes any part of a film, and any copy or part of a copy of the whole or any part of a film.

Q : Does "film" includes videos shot on my mobile phone?

A : According to the above, yes.

Q : What are the penalties if one does not submit these films to MDA?

A : Section 21 of the Films Act spells out the penalties, and also empowers the authorities to enter your home to search for unlicensed films. Here it goes :

21. —(1) Any person who —

(a) has in his possession;
(b) exhibits or distributes; or
(c) reproduces,

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

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

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

(2) Any Censor and any Deputy or Assistant Censor and any Inspector of Films may at all reasonable times enter any place in which any film is kept or is being or is about to be exhibited and may examine the film, and if on such examination he has reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under this section has been or is about to be committed in respect of the film he may seize the film and any equipment used in the commission of the offence.

Q : But aren't there exceptions? Did MDA not create a category of films that are exempted from classification?

A : Yes, indeed there is a category of films which are exempted from classification. The list includes documentaries, children and sports shows, karaoke videos and personal videos. The full list can be found here.

However, the exemptions are not automatic. You have to apply for an exemption certificate from MDA (see here), subject to your declaration that all the exempted videos does not contain films that may violate the law, such as party political films, pornography, or any film that MDA may deem to fall outside the exemption list.

Q : Okay, now I'm confused. So am I allowed to upload videos directly online or not?

A : According to the above letter, yes, you are allowed to. MDA says they will not require you to submit your videos before you post them online.

Q : Then what's the use of retaining section 14 of the Films Act when they are not going to enforce it on every film, considering that most people watch films online these days?

A : Three reasons.

Firstly, the Films Act was passed into law in 1980, some 25 years before YouTube.

Secondly, section 14 is still applicable for all public screenings, including movies in cinemas and film festivals.

Thirdly, section 14 is a handy tool to use when the authorities wishes to act on films (or people) which they deem to be "against public interests". For example, they may selectively choose to conduct raids on a private screening of an anti-Lee Kuan Yew film, such as this and this.

Or, on occasions when the police raid a person's home for an illegal activity or possessions (such as gambling or drugs), they may also charge the owner with possession of unlicensed films.

In the above letter, MDA says they can also order websites to submit videos for classification, if they deem these videos to have "content concerns".

Q : So what are videos that may have "content concerns"?

A : MDA doesn't say, but I would posit three categories of videos that may raise their attention.

1. Videos that denigrate religion.
2. Videos that denigrate a race.
3. Videos that denigrate Lee Kuan Yew, his family and his legacy.

Q : How about political videos? Doesn't section 33 of the Films Act prohibits "party political films"?

A : Good question, and "party political films" are loosely defined as films that makes "biased references" to any political matter and persons in Singapore. There is a recent amendment to this law. The government would like to think it's a liberalisation, but on paper the law is more restrictive. See my earlier blog post on this subject here.

In the above letter, MDA mentions that there are "several films" on my blog that have not been submitted for classification. I think they meant my list of "Top 100 Political Videos (that are likely to be banned in Singapore)" . So I suppose that since these videos have not raise any "content concerns", they provide a benchmark of political films which may be deemed "safe."

Separately, in this post, blogger Alex Au has raised some content concern that two of PAP's uploaded videos may have violated section 33 of the Films Act. Don't bet on MDA to act on his concerns. So I say if the PAP can do it, so can you. But again, look out for that OB marker marked "LKY".

Q : So why do you bother to submit your films to MDA, now that the latter has said they will not enforce the law strictly on online videos?

A : Prior to this letter, I had submitted my films in good faith, and for the purpose of screening them in public at some point. Two of my films remained gazetted as prohibited films, but you can watch them here and here.


Read also :

MDA hacks away at rule of law

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Govt queried on political parties' online videos

My letter is published in the Straits Times forum today. In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.. "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly."

ST Forum
Dec 9, 2010
Can political parties directly upload videos online?

IN LAST Saturday's report ('The battle for eyeballs is on'), we learnt that political parties have been using the new media.

The article noted that since the ban on party political films was lifted last year, 'parties are able to produce and disseminate videos so long as they are factual and objective'.

Indeed, some opposition parties have posted politically themed videos online, with the Singapore Democratic Party chalking up 47 videos on its YouTube channel so far. My own check on the People's Action Party website reveals the ruling party has posted more than 30 videos.

But Section 14(1) of the Films Act states that 'every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board (of Film Censors) without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship'.

Earlier this year, I had complied with the above by submitting my video recording of a speech by political detainee Dr Lim Hock Siew to the censors. The film is now gazetted as a prohibited film because the Minister deemed it to be 'against public interests'. I was also told to remove the film from YouTube and from my blog, which I duly complied.

My other film, Zahari's 17 Years (2006), an interview with political detainee Said Zahari, has remained banned.

Given the Government's dim view of films and videos with political content, I would like to know what is the position of the relevant authorities with regard to the production and direct uploading of videos onto the Internet, particularly those of political parties.

Martyn See


Dec 4, 2010
The battle for eyeballs is on

By Tessa Wong

REMEMBER the much-discussed picture that blogger Alex Au snapped during the 2006 General Election, which showed thousands of people at a Workers' Party (WP) rally in Hougang?

It became the picture that symbolised the new media's status as a new source of political information.

With the easing of rules on political online content, political parties, especially from the opposition movement, are now banking on various platforms in cyberspace to make an impact in the coming polls.

Now, a website or a podcast is considered just the bare minimum.

While political parties acknowledge the importance of traditional vote-canvassing methods such as house visits and walkabouts, they also want to exploit the fast-growing social media to reach voters.

Singapore boasts 2.46 million Facebook users, according to statistics portal - a mind-blowing figure, considering that Facebook was made available globally only in September 2006, just after the last general election.

Many political parties have set up a presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Content on these platforms is uploaded on a regular, if not daily, basis.

Websites have been beefed up significantly. No longer do they contain only basic information about the parties; now they come with blogs, video links and interactive elements.

For example, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Reform Party (RP) provide updates nearly every day on their blogs, giving party news and their take on current issues. Visitors can post their comments on these blogs.

The WP's new site has a Flickr photo stream which allows visitors to view pictures of party events, and a Facebook widget which shows the party's most recently posted content.

To draw more eyeballs, the same content is often shared among multiple platforms. SDP often posts links to its blog entries on its Twitter account, its three Facebook pages, and the personal page of its party leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Facebook, in particular, has proven to be a popular medium for parties. They use it to share photos of events, advertise their constituency visits and recruit volunteers.

More importantly, they use it to interact with voters. The youth wing of the People's Action Party (PAP), for example, posts links to news stories on its Facebook page to gather feedback and engage users on national issues.

These platforms are employed to elicit suggestions from voters on what they want. RP has started separate Facebook pages for its campaign drives in Hong Kah and West Coast GRCs, where it asks residents for feedback.

What's more, politicians can now talk directly to voters through new media. Among those known to do so through Facebook are RP's secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam, National Solidarity Party's (NSP) secretary-general Goh Meng Seng, and PAP MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng.

In anticipation of the coming polls, some party members and volunteers have given a subtle twist to their online campaigning, such as changing their Facebook profile names to reflect their political intentions.

Some RP members have appended the term 'VotingRP' to their profile names. Mr Goh has changed his Facebook name to 'Goh Meng Seng Nspcontestampines', a reference to his plan to contest Tampines GRC in the coming elections.

A new playing field

SEVERAL key factors explain the ramp-up in new media campaigning.

One, it is seen as an affordable and effective way of reaching out to voters. Mr Goh of NSP has observed that the Internet is a low-cost medium in which politicians can get involved and achieve close engagement with voters.

SDP's assistant secretary-general, Mr John Tan, says that new media allows the party to counter 'untruths' propagated by traditional media.

This is why smaller parties which lack big budgets or manpower may want to use new media, according to Dr Marko Skoric, an assistant professor with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who specialises in new media and social change.

'Basically, new media tactics would most benefit the underdogs,' he says.

This may explain why there is a difference between the new media approaches of the opposition and the PAP.

While the PAP has a presence on all the major new media platforms, more of its online activity appears to be driven by personal content - such as ministers or MPs posting updates on their Facebook pages - rather than by official party content.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, a member of the PAP's new media team, acknowledges that the decentralised approach is deliberate but 'makes sense'.

'We encourage them to engage with voters individually, especially since many MPs have existing voter support bases. We are not pushing to be cutting-edge, but still want to ensure voters have access to members and platforms,' he says.

The second factor is that parties are keen to woo the growing generation of wired voters, many of whom are young and want to explore political options.

To target the 18-35 age group, RP says it has put together a comprehensive online strategy, noting that its current support base has been enlisted 'almost exclusively off the back of social media'.

A third crucial factor is that the rules have changed since the last election. Last year, the ban on party political films was lifted. Parties are able to produce and disseminate videos so long as they are factual and objective.

Candidates, political parties and agents can use podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and other new media tools for campaigning in the coming elections.

Party political podcasts and vodcasts - which are episodic audio or video recordings posted online - were banned in the 2006 elections.

Taking advantage of the relaxed rules, some opposition parties have started to post politically-themed videos online. SDP has put up 47 videos on its YouTube channel so far.

Its latest video, posted this week, features its mascot Danny the Democracy Bear pursuing a man wearing what appears to be the PAP's white outfit.

A stronger online presence could also benefit political parties on Cooling-Off Day, which was introduced as part of the electoral reforms earlier this year. This falls on the eve of Polling Day.

Parties cannot officially campaign or put up any election advertising in contested wards on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day.

But any election content that the parties has placed on the Internet before Cooling-Off Day can remain online, provided it has not been changed and that it is lawfully published in the first place.

This could well be one reason opposition parties are concentrating on Internet content: with more such content available to voters before Cooling-Off Day, they reckon, the higher will be their chances in influencing opinion.

As they see it, the biggest benefit of new media is increased accessibility to voters.

Says Mr Yaw Shin Leong, WP's organising secretary: 'There will always be people who want to know more about a party's manifesto or its stand on a political issue. It is now easier for these people to access that information using the various online platforms.'


Read also :

Political videos pudding ready for the eating