Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New restrictions to Films Act introduced under the guise of liberalization

Source: Martyn See, March 23, 2009

The amendments to the Films Act bill has been passed in Parliament. State-owned CNA was the first off the blocks, calling it "a significant step to further liberalize and expand the space for political debate." The Straits Times and others will likely to parrot the enthusiasm, and there will be no end to the Government hailing the amendments as the a sign of Singapore opening up.

While I leave the analysis to the bloggers and commentators, I will just spell out here in layman's terms what the amendments really mean to you.


The only major amendment is in Section 33 of the Films Act.

The rest of the Films Act remains largely unchanged. For example, the following sections still applies.

1. Section 14 requires that you submit any video in your possession (this includes video images stored in your handphone and private videos in your collection) to the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

2. Section 21 spells out the penalties if you possesses, exhibits or reproduces any unlicensed video.

3. Section 23 authorises the police to
enter and search your home, seize any unlicensed video(s) and to take into custody any person reasonably believed to be guilty of an offence under the Act.


Section 33 prohibits the making, exhibition, distribution and import of "party political films", which are defined as videos or films that makes "partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter." It also states that the penalties for such an offence is a conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

In general, the above has not changed. It still applies.

The only change to the above is that instead of the BFC, an Independent Advisory Board will now decide what constitutes "partisan or biased references" . The Board is slated to be headed by ex-district court judge Richard Magnus. The members of the Board have not been announced as yet.


What is "allowed" here, as the Minister and the media gloat, is really a misnomer as there were no prior restrictions on such videos.

1. The new amendment states you can now make a video that contain the whole or material proportion of a political event(s) that are held according to the law. Please note that this new addition is NOT a liberalization as there were no sections of the previous Act that disallowed this. For example, my film Speakers Cornered (2006) was passed by the BFC prior to this new ruling. Ironically, this new amendment may actually criminalize Speakers Cornered as the participants of that protest are now undergoing trial!

2. The new amendment states you can now make political videos that do not contain any animation and must composed wholly of an accurate account of a political event or persons. Again this is NOT a liberalization as there were no sections of the previous Act that disallowed this. In fact, this is a new restriction dressed up as liberalization. Sneaky.

WHAT IS REALLY ALLOWED (where previously banned)

This is the only part that fits the bill of liberalization (but is negated later by more new restrictions).

The new amendment states that you can now make, exhibit and distribute videos composed wholly of a political party's ideologies and manifestos. But here's the catch - the videos must be made "on the basis of which candidates authorized by the political party to stand will seek to be elected at a Parliamentary election." Does this mean that someone like Dr Chee Soon Juan, who is ineligible to stand for elections due to his bankruptcy, is not allowed to appear in such videos? Will something like this be criminalized?

WHAT IS NOW NOT ALLOWED (where previously allowed, or not stated)

Get ready, here are the bombshells.

1. You are now not allowed to make an unbiased and non-partisan political video that contains any form of animation. Like this.

2. You are now not allowed to make an unbiased and non-partisan political video that contains "wholly or substantially based on unscripted or "reality" type programmes." Something like this.

3. You are now not allowed to make an unbiased and non-partisan political video that depicts "events, persons or situations in a dramatic way." Something like this.

4. You are now not allowed to make an unbiased and non-partisan political video that contains scenes of an illegal political event. Something like this.


Singapore eases law on political films

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore passed an amended law on Monday to ease an 11-year-old ban on films that promote a politician or political party, but the amendments also introduce restrictions on dramatized political videos.

The relaxation of rules on political films was meant to keep up with the spread of video and other news content on the Internet, but these had to be "held in accordance with the law," Lui Tuck Yew, a junior minister at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, told parliament.

The amended Films Act allows films that are factual and objective, and do not dramatize or present a distorted picture of politics in Singapore, Lui said.

"Films with animation and dramatization and distort what is real or factual will be disallowed, as the intent of the amendments is to ensure that these films do not undermine the seriousness of political debate," he said.

The southeast Asian city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party for more than 40 years, had banned the production and screening of all political films, imposing a maximum fine of S$100,000 ($73,000) or a two-year jail term on offenders.

The ban came into effect in 1998, two years after the opposition Singapore Democratic Party applied for a license to sell a videotape about the party.

Public gatherings of more than four people without permits are also banned, making it difficult for opposition politicians to reach out to voters.

The amended bill won overwhelming support in a parliament that has been dominated by the PAP since Singapore's independence in 1965.

Nominated member of parliament Siew Kum Hong, who opposed the bill, said the amendments did not go far enough as it would still allow the prosecution of people who film political rallies without realizing whether the event was lawful or not.

"Singaporeans are today far more sophisticated and media savvy than before and should be trusted for the merit and demerit of films for themselves," he told parliament.

Martyn See, a Singaporean film-maker who had two films banned by authorities because of their political content, called the law "regressive."

"It shows off a government that is incapable of trusting its own citizens to watch political films."