Obituary of a ban: Political films may get a new life



August 19th, 2008

Lin Junjie wrote this review of Singapore’s ban on political films under NTU’s Ureca programme, which provides research opportunities for selected undergraduates. In addition to helping to edit this site, Lin is the chief editor of the Nanyang Chronicle, NTU’s student newspaper.

It is a death that would sadden few—certainly not the film-makers nor reformists who have long fought against the ten-year-old ban on political films.

Almost three years after the minister mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, first signalled for change, the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, finally said Sunday that an “outright ban is no longer sensible”.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong was addressing the nation in his national day rally address when he said for the first time that Singapore has got to allow political videos—although with some safeguards.

Before, various PAP MPs had already said the time was ripe for a review, but the prime minister continued to express concerns about relaxing the ban.

Mr Lee recently said that producing political advertisements costs a lot of money and was worried that political parties would have to depend on donations, which he said always come with strings attached. He was also concerned that his government might not be able to rebut errors as effectively in the film medium as they could in print.

The prime minister seemed ready to tackle the latter problem but unready to face the former when he defined the limits of the proposed relaxation.

“If you make a political commercial so that it’s purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression, I think those should still be off-limits,” he said.

So it seems for now that the hands of opposition leaders like Chee Soon Juan—who first applied for a licence to sell a party-made political videotape and was rejected, setting in motion the introduction of the ban—will continue to be tied by restrictions.

Nevertheless it is interesting to consider the development of the Films Act over the past ten years to better understand the government’s concerns.

Films Act: A Review of Ten Years of Political Censorship

Until 1998 the Films Act had almost always been used to prosecute purveyors and owners of obscene films—save for a little-known incident in 1996 when a catch-all provision in the act was invoked possibly for the first time since it was enacted. The provision, originally made under section 30 and continue to exist under section 35 of the amended act, stated:

Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act if the Minister is of the opinion that the possession or distribution of any film would be contrary to the public interest [italics added], he may, in his discretion, by order published in the Gazette prohibit the possession or distribution of that film by any person. (Films Act, 1998)

It was used in July that year when the ministry of information and the arts rejected an application by the Singapore Democratic Party for a licence to sell a party-made political videotape. The ministry said “it was not in the national interest [italics added] for political debates to be conducted through such a medium” (Leong, 1996, ¶ 7), and the minister, George Yeo, gave three reasons why:

  1. the use of videos could sensationalise political issues,
  2. it does not allow for effective rebuttals of errors of fact or interpretation,
  3. political debate could turn into a contest between advertising agencies “vying for maximum effect by evoking emotive reaction” (¶ 8)

The ministry also added that there were already sufficient avenues for political parties to get their views across to the public, including newspapers, books and the internet.

The SDP responded by decrying the use of the act “in such an arbitrary manner” (“SDP Denounces Govt’s Decision,” 1996, ¶ 6). In a letter sent to Yeo, the opposition party leader, Chee Soon Juan, asked when the new ruling on political video-tapes was passed by parliament, and said freedom of communication by political parties with the people cannot be decided “so casually” by the ruling party (“SDP Invites BG Yeo,” 1996, ¶ 11).

Perhaps it was against the backdrop of these allegations that the minister decided in 1998 to table an amendment to the act that would explicitly outlaw all political films. The move was technically unnecessary, since the minister already had the power to ban any film he deemed “contrary to the public interest”, and he acknowledged that (Fernandez et al., 1998). Enacting this bill, however, had the advantage of lending legitimacy—through a democratic process—to an otherwise illiberal restriction. The official reason given by the minister for the bill—“the ban on political films was an important matter which would recur, so it was important to have it written into law, and have the issue fully debated” (¶ 18)—lends credence to this explanation.

Other MPs noted during the debate that makers of subversive videos could already be prosecuted under existing legislation—such as the Sedition Act, Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, Internal Security Act and defamation laws (Koh, 1998). But the problem for the PAP was that the films they had wanted to ban—and the films that were to be banned under the new bill—would not have fallen foul of any of these laws since they were not subversive in nature, but merely political in content.

In response to comments that the ban was too “sweeping and vague”, that the move was aimed at “killing off” political debate and the opposition (“Tougher Porn Penalties,” 1998, ¶ 20), Yeo defended the broad definition as necessary, lest members of political parties circumvent the law by getting their supporters to produce the film on their behalf (Fernandez et al., 1998). It is instructive to note at this point that the only two films to be banned under the new provision—A Vision of Persistence in 2001 and Singapore Rebel in 2005—were produced by filmmakers who had no known affiliations to the party of the opposition leader they had featured.

Some MPs also feared that the new provisions would stifle artistic expression (“Tougher Porn Penalties,” 1998)—a concern that would be revisited in 2005 when 11 filmmakers sought clarification from the authorities in an open letter to the Straits Times. In particular, nominated MP Zulkifli Baharuddin pointed out that a movie like Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys, which commented on issues such as the vehicle quota system, would have ran afoul of the new law (Koh, 1998). However a Straits Times journalist, Koh Buck Song argued:

He [Zulkifli] would be right only if one goes strictly by the letter of the law. In practice, taking into account the spirit of the law means that a judge who interprets any Act must also consider what the minister said in Parliament when it was passed.

BG Yeo has made it clear that the Bill applies only to films made by political parties to gain electoral influence. The new law should have no impact on other film-makers with no political connections or intentions. (¶ 19, 20)

But in supporting the bill, Koh had also pointed out its glaring problem: the wide latitude that the government has in defining which films are “directed towards any political end in Singapore” (Films Act, 1998, Interpretation section, ¶ 22), and which are not; which films are “partisan or biased” (¶ 24) and which are not, have left filmmakers—even those who have no intent to politick—in much fear and uncertainty. This was the basis on which award-winning filmmaker, Tan Pin Pin, had penned her open letter on behalf of ten other filmmakers in 2005 after police investigations into Martyn See’s Singapore Rebel came to light:

We ask because, as filmmakers, we feel that almost anything could be construed as a comment on a political matter.

Further, how do we assess whether something is a political matter? Any subject, no matter how innocuous, could become a political matter depending on the circumstances, and we could easily find ourselves contravening the Act inadvertently.

Similarly, we require some guidance on what constitutes ‘bias’; after all, all works of art are the expression of the artiste’s opinion, which may favour a particular viewpoint or argument over another. (¶ 7, 8, 9)

The official reply—mostly a reiteration of the act—did little to assuage their unease:

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. (Bhavani, 2005a, ¶ 4)

Responding to the move by the filmmakers, a Straits Times journalist, Leong Ching (2005), suggested that “[when] it comes to guidelines, there will always be room for interpretation and manoeuvre by film-makers” (¶ 13). She went on to highlight Jacen Tan’s Tak Giu and Jack Neo’s I Not Stupid as examples of “savvy film-makers [who] know how to work around the Films Act to make their point” using humour (¶ 20). Leong’s argument was met with a cutting rejoinder by a blogger, Wang Zhen (2005), who retorted that Leong had missed the point about the filmmakers’ move:

Tak Giu might very well have gotten into trouble for being a party political film. I Not Stupid might very well also have gotten into trouble too. Both film-makers took the chance and as it turned out, the gods were kind and luck was on their side…

Like Tan and Jack Neo, Martyn See also took a chance. Luck, however, was not on Martyn’s side… This is the problem with the Films Act. It is too vague. The environment is impossible for film-makers if they have to be perpetually making guesses as to the authorities will or will not tolerate.

… Leong Ching suggests that as long as your film stays comedic, cute and funny, you’ll probably be permitted to comment on politics. However, the moment you try to make a serious film about politics—you’ve drastically increased your chances of being thrown into jail (¶ 12, 13, 17).

Leaving the scope of unlawful films loosely defined closely parallels the demarcation of out-of-bounds markers in Singapore—“rules which stipulate what Singaporeans can and cannot say should they choose to criticise the government” (Lim, 2007, ¶ 9). According to author and political commentator, Catherine Lim, the effectiveness of these markers is derived from them being deliberately left undefined:

Firstly, it allows the government to have its own interpretation of each case as it arises, to suit its purpose. Secondly, since no one knows when or whether the markers are being overstepped, everyone plays safe by practising self-censorship, which can be a more effective curb than direct censorship. (¶ 9)

The effect of the latter has been explored in the preceding discussion, while the effect of the former would be examined when the government dealt with complaints of double standards in the enforcement of the act later in this essay.

Notwithstanding these reservations the bill was passed—an inevitability with members of the PAP dominating the parliament. But despite having the new law in place, the PAP did not seem keen about making public instances where it had wielded the law against filmmakers—a departure from its usual practice of naming criminals quite readily in newspapers as moral lessons for the rest of the citizens.

Take for instance. when news that the documentary, A Vision of Persistence, on J.B. Jeyaretnam was banned surfaced in the Straits Times, it was already eight months after the film was withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival. Similarly, when news of police investigations into Martyn See’s Singapore Rebel came to light in May 2005, it was some two months after See, having been told it was objectionable under the Films Act, withdrew his film from the festival (Koh, 2005). When he was finally let off with a stern warning after 15 months of police investigations, See (2007a) suggested that his story might never have been known if not for his blog:

Under this climate of fear and self-censorship, the only tool available to me by way of publicising my story was the internet. So I posted updates of the police investigation on my blog, and immediately it was picked up by news wire agencies based in Singapore… I believe then and now that international attention on my case was a key factor that led to the eventual withdrawal of charges against me. (¶ 11)

The government, perhaps anticipating the kind of backlash that might be generated by going after filmmakers for what seemed like an innocuous activity—and whom were not even affiliated with the opposition—probably decided against engaging in noisy confrontations.

In the first instance the filmmakers, three polytechnic lecturers, were told that they could be charged in court when the authorities learnt that their film would be screened at the festival. The polytechnic said the matter was closed when the filmmakers submitted written apologies and withdrew it from the festival (Tan, 2002). Then, the only commotion that had spun off from the story was a letter by a member of the public: Jeremy Chia (2002) wrote that the act covered “pretty much anything and everything even remotely ‘political’” (¶ 2), and suggested it was time to update the act to differentiate propaganda from documentaries that contain facts and grounded opinions. The ministry’s response then, as with its reply to the 11 filmmakers in 2005, rejected the assertion that the act covered everything political, but fell short of explaining further beyond reiterating the provisions made in the act—all of which already quoted in the original story by Tan. The letter would put a stop to the brief encounter between the public and the authorities.

In contrast the responses that followed the banning of Singapore Rebel three years later were many times larger in scale; the issue of censorship of political films had in fact dominated the national agenda for the rest of 2005. The coverage in the Straits Times, for instance, became much more aggressive. Readers were polled and no fewer than 15 related articles were published from May through December that year, including letters from filmmakers, members of the public and the authorities, news updates on the police investigations, commentaries by journalists and interviews with PAP leaders who were quizzed over their stand on the act.

In the hubbub that had ensued from the ban, a journalist, Sue-Ann Chia (2005a), noted that only films on the opposition had been banned thus far. Several PAP leaders, however, were keen to give the impression that they too were subjected to the same constraints under the act. In a separate article by Chia (2005b) on the same day that made front-page, the PAP revealed it had “tossed about the idea of making a film to mark its 50th anniversary… [but] the organisers tossed it out soon enough when they realised it could contravene a law on ‘party political films’” (¶ 1, 2). Similar anecdotes were brought up again in an interview with then-minister for home affairs and current deputy prime minister, Wong Kan Seng, later that month (Nirmala, 2005). The idea that the act was applied in an “even-handed manner” was promulgated since the parliamentary debate in 1998, when the PAP said it “has more to lose from missing out on any advantages of public communications which video can offer” (¶ 24), because since commercials cost money, the PAP can raise more cash than any opposition party (Koh, 1998). This argument was brought forth again by the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in an interview with a Chinese-language daily ten years later (“Leading and Lightening Up,” 2008).

What the PAP leaders and journalists neglected to mention, however, was a clause in the act that exempted “any film sponsored by the Government” (Films Act, 1998, Exemptions section, ¶ 2). A blogger, Alex Au (2008a), concluded that this exemption was the reason for the “pro-government films we see all the time on TV” (side box), but that would not be accurate when one considers the official response to such complaints of double standards. On August 30th, 2005, an activist, Yap Keng Ho, filed a police report against the state-owned broadcaster MediaCorp for allegedly violating the Films Act by screening two programmes, Success Story in 2002 and Up Close in 2005. Yap said both films had featured PAP ministers: the former featured Lee Kuan Yew, while the latter Lee Hsien Loong (“Singapore Activist Files Complaint,” 2005). Yap has not heard from the police to date (personal communication, May 15, 2008). When the complaint was taken to the Straits Times forum page by Kelvin Lau (2005) in October that year, the ministry’s spokeswoman, Bhavani (2005b) replied:

… In the series, the ministers discussed with invited guests policy issues pertaining to their portfolios, such as youth, employment, education and health.

The series clearly did not breach the Films Act as the discussions were conducted in a non-partisan manner and were aired by MediaCorp for the purpose of reporting current affairs. (¶ 2, 3)

It was an astute reply, for the PAP would have lost its credibility if they had invoked exemptions on the said films—especially not after it had sought to promote the impression that the law was applied equally. Here, Catherine Lim’s argument that the government could “have its own interpretation of each case as it arises… to suit its purpose” (2007, ¶ 9) comes to mind. The ill-defined scope of unlawful films had worked to the PAP’s advantage.

In spite of all the commotion that year, change did not seem forthcoming until late in 2005, when Lee Kuan Yew said of the Singapore Rebel saga in an interview with Time magazine, “’Well, if you had asked me, I would have said to hell with it. But the censor, the enforcer, he will continue until he is told the law has changed. And it will change” (“MM Lee Speaks,” 2005, ¶ 7). To filmmakers and political observers, Lee’s comments signalled an imminent change: Tan Pin Pin, who had earlier penned the open letter seeking clarification on the act, said, “Mr Lee’s words carry weight. They will signal to civil servants and legislators that changes are necessary” (Kwek, 2005, ¶ 11). Blogger Alex Au (2005) suggested that the “government’s retreat has begun” (¶ 21), and that it “would be hard, now that the old man from the mountain has spoken, to continue to harass See and his friends in the film-making community” (¶ 7). A statement from the ministry a week later, however, declined to specify a date for a review of the act. Police investigations into Singapore Rebel were also not to end until some eight months later (Hussain, 2006).

The excitement was however dampened when another of Martyn See’s film, Zahari’s 17 Years, was banned in 2007, more than a year after Lee Kuan Yew had signalled for change. This time, however, the film was not banned as a “party political film”, but as a film “contrary to public interest” as ordered by the the minister (Chan, 2007a)—the same catch-all provision used to prevent the sale and distribution of the party-made political videotape by SDP in 1996.

Strangely the film had earlier been twice given a “parental guidance” rating by the board of film censors when it was submitted for two film festival screenings. The board later clarified that it “gives greater leeway to films meant for festival screenings because ‘unlike films for general release, film festivals are usually limited in their screenings and reach.’” (Chan, 2007b, ¶ 12). It was however not shown in both instances after officials from the media development authority told the organisers that the film “may be defamatory” (Kwek, 2007). It was thus perplexing that it was the most powerful and arbitrary provision in the act—rather than the defamation laws—that had been used against See; the Singapore government, often described by the foreign media as one of the most litigious in the world, has never hesitated to sue for defamation after all. And this was after the government had taken the trouble to amend the act in 1998 to outlaw political films. The official reason given for the ban was also quite different from its initial objections of possibly defamatory content:

The film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1963 and is an attempt to exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore. The Government will not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past, to exploit the use of films to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the Government. This could undermine public confidence in the Government. (Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, 2007, ¶ 2)

This also marked the first time the government had issued a press statement about banning a film under the act, compared with its hushed-up actions against A Vision of Persistence and Singapore Rebel.

Ironically the first memoirs of Said Zahari, Dark Clouds At Dawn, published in 2001 and on which See said his film’s interview was based on, is available in bookstores in Singapore (Smith, 2007; Chan, 2007b). Said’s latest memoir, The Long Nightmare—My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner, published after the ban on See’s film, is also available in Singapore’s bookstores (See, 2007b). Said was thus shocked to hear of the ban, saying, “I don’t understand why they would ban it at all. What I said in the movie I have already said in my book, and much, much more.” Explaining the discrepancy, the board said: “The impact of a book and a film is different. A film is more likely to reach a wider audience than a book and can more easily arouse emotive responses”—maintaining the government’s original stance that the film medium is not suited for rational and logical debate on politics. As if to add on to the confusion, a film on another political detainee, Chia Thye Poh, was passed with a “no children under 16” rating and screened publicly four days later (Chan, 2007b).

Even as the saga unfolds, Lee Kuan Yew would again allude to a possible change in the government’s censorship policy, saying, “We have created a society which is totally educated. You are all able to go on the Internet. So all this censorship and so on makes no sense to me. You are on the Internet 24 hours, broadband” (Peh, 2007). Explaining the apparent contradiction, a media scholar, Cherian George (2007), wrote in his blog:

We shouldn’t look at what he said as a statement of immediate media policy, but rather as a broad, long-term principle. Anyone who takes his comment too literally would no doubt be struck by the contradiction between words and actions…. There was no evidence there of the kind of thinking Mr Lee was advocating.

So, it is more realistic to consider Mr Lee’s words as referring to a long-term trajectory. In the short term, the government can be expected to continue applying censorship powers in old fashioned ways. This gradual and controlled pace of liberalisation, with occasional reversals, will continue to be the pattern… (¶ 6, 7).

Things seemed to take a turn for the better when the censors passed Martyn See’s latest film on Chee Soon Juan, Speakers Cornered, in 2008 (Chia, 2008). But the film, passed with a “no children under 16” rating because it “requires maturity to discern the intent and message of the film” (¶ 9), meant that See was required to file a separate application for public screening, which he said “there is no guarantee that [it] may be approved, as it happened to Zahari’s 17 Years and Royston Tan’s short film 15” (“Submit Your Boldest,” 2008, ¶ 6). This had led See to remark that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the move until Speakers Cornered has been screened publicly. In passing the film though, the chairman of the board of film censors, Amy Chua, stressed that “party political films are prohibited under the Films Act. There is no change in the legislation” (Chia, 2008, ¶ 10). Still, encouraged by the move, a filmmaker, Ho Choon Hiong, submitted six films to the board of film censors on April 30th for classification—all of which though had already been uploaded onto YouTube (Ho, 2008).

When all the yet-to-be reviewed or banned films (except for A Vision of Persistence) have been made widely available on the internet, it seemed to have forced the government’s hand in rethinking its ban on political films. George Yeo, the minister responsible for instituting the ban, had said in a television programme some ten years later in 2007 that:

We did not want politics in Singapore to be trivialised to soap commercials, where it all depends on packaging and how much money you’re able to put into producing that programme, so we decided to keep it simple, keep it cheap, and politics in Singapore is cheap.

[But we] did not reckon this new medium [the internet] which allows you to produce the programmes quite cheaply. So i think we could adjust that position. (“Big Boys Blogging,” 2007)

As recent as April 2008, Yeo had described the ban as “antiquated” and thinks “the time is ripe for a review” (Lim & Chia, 2008, YouTube era section, ¶ 2, 3). The current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, had similarly signalled for change:

The next general election is three, four years away. There will definitely be new developments in new media… We have to renew regulations to meet the needs of the new age. We will review whether we should relax some of the regulations. (“Leading and Lightening Up,” 2008, ¶ 7, 10)

Lee had however, differed from Yeo, when he cautioned that political advertisements “cost a lot of money” (¶ 21) and painted a sinister picture about depending on political donations, which he said always come with strings attached. The contradiction was noted by a blogger, Gerald Giam, and by Martyn See in an interview with a local news and commentary site, The Online Citizen. Rebutting the prime minister’s concerns, Giam (2008) wrote:

Current election laws already prevent candidates from spending more than I believe $3 per voter. Thus the mechanism is already in place to prevent lobby money from dominating the political scene here.

… Our political donations laws are one of the most stringent in the world. None of that is about to change. (¶ 19, 25).

Despite all these signals of change, bloggers were more cautious this time in anticipating any drastic change compared with 2005, when Lee Kuan Yew made the unprecedented remarks against censorship. Responding to the prime minister’s signal for change, Au (2008b) described them as “tweaking” of rules at best. He said, “I don’t foresee them doing anymore than loosen up a bit over political films, and maybe podcasts and vodcasts around election time” (sidebar, ¶ 4).

The single most important concern of the government can be traced back to 1996, when Yeo rejected SDP’s application to sell its party-made political videotape. Then as now, the government is worried that the film medium does not allow for effective rebuttals (Leong, 1996; Lim & Chia, 2008). It should be noted that the PAP government has always placed a premium on its right of reply, considering how the circulation of various foreign media had been severely restricted for not publishing replies from the government, or even for omitting sentences from these letters. The problem with films, Lee Hsien Loong said, is that its audience is not fixed and there is no way to find them to clarify the truth (Lim & Chia, 2008).

But even as the PAP grapples with coming up with solutions to these perceived problems, bloggers, filmmakers and activists were starting to take matters into their own hands. Taking a cue from the Complaints Choir perhaps—which had in January 2008 converted several of its public performances into invitation-only ones after the authorities disallowed foreign members from taking part in its public performances (Au Yong, 2008)—activists and filmmakers began a series of private screenings of their uncensored films.

The first screening in March 2008—where three uncensored films, including the then yet-to-be cleared Speakers Cornered, were screened—took place without fanfare (See, 2008). The second function however, organised by the SDP and took place in May, saw a film by activist and artist Seelan Palay, seized by the board of film censors. The film, One Nation Under Lee, was a narrative of how Lee Kuan Yew had subjugated various institutions in Singapore during his time as prime minister (Loh, 2008). The film has since been uploaded onto the internet. By holding such private screenings and by uploading uncensored, political and banned films onto the internet, See said he was issuing an open challenge to the censors to clamp down on them (See, 2008). With the seizure of the film however, it is unclear if such acts of civil disobedience would continue as part of the filmmakers struggle against the act.

A group of 13 bloggers, led by Alex Au and Choo Zheng Xi, had similarly decided to take action by submitting a proposal to the incumbent minister for information, communication and the arts, Lee Boon Yang, in April 2008 (“Bloggers Send 20-Page Proposal,” 2008). Among the criticisms and recommendations made was one relating to the impracticality of enforcing the Films Act on the internet:

It is impossible to enforce any regulation of political content on the Internet… Locally, many bloggers and determined filmmakers are likely to take advantage of the borderlessness of the technology to ignore existing and future regulation of political content on the Internet, in the process bringing the law into disrepute.

… Despite the ban, Singapore Rebel and Zahari’s 17 Years are now viewable on YouTube and Google Video. Neither of them have been taken down, nor can be. In similar fashion, future party political films could simply be aired on the Internet, without having to go through the MDA. Once more, the very nature of the Internet makes it virtually impossible for the MDA to regulate such films. (Choo, et al., 2008, p. 10, 12-13.)

Although a determined government could still force Google to block access to video clips it host—as Thailand did in 2007 when it banned access to YouTube for hosting insulting clips of the Thai king, or how China had forced Google to offer a censored version of its search engine since 2006—doing so could impede its economic progress or injure its investor-friendly reputation. Lee Kuan Yew would have none of this when he said, “We cannot stop this. If we stop this, we stop the progress. We are marginalised” (Peh, 2007, ¶ 15). The ministry, in response to the proposal, also confirmed that “we have been reviewing our light-touch approach and are considering how we could take a lighter touch approach” (George, 2008), alluding once more to possible changes in its censorship laws.

What’s next?

Now that the prime minister had said in surest terms that change would come, the questions that remain are what exactly and how would they tackle the perceived threats.

With the developments in the past ten years reviewed, it is interesting to revisit the three reasons why the PAP government had disallowed political films in the first place—(1) the use of videos could sensationalise political issues, (2) it does not allow for effective rebuttals of errors of fact or interpretation, and (3) political debate could turn into a contest between advertising agencies “vying for maximum effect by evoking emotive reaction” (Leong, 1996, ¶ 8).

Of the three reasons, the government continues to be wary of the first while now repudiating the costs involved in the third (although the prime minister had somewhat contradicted this). On the points that the film medium is not suited for rational and logical discussion and could sensationalise political issues, the government appears to have soften its stance when PAP MP and deputy chairman of the government parliamentary committee for information, communications and the arts, Zaqy Mohamad, said recently that he believed “Singaporeans are now better educated, more mature and able to weigh different arguments to reach their conclusion.” (Lim & Chia, 2008, Weighing the costs section, ¶ 5). Nevertheless the prime minister continues to flag the emotive appeal of the film medium as a potential problem in his national day rally address.

Strangely the one challenge that remains for the PAP government—that it would not be able to refute misinformation as easily as it could with the print media—which it has consistently highlighted in its arguments against allowing political films, received no attention in the prime minister’s address.

Could the PAP have found a solution to it when the prime minister said political films will adopt censorship and classification standards by a panel, just as how they have been dealing with non-political ones? Would this then mean that the government will remain the arbiter of political films? The idea would almost certainly not appeal to film-makers such as Royston Tan, whose non-political film, 15, received 27 cuts by what must have been a panel of overzealous censors.

And what would happen to films that were already banned as party political? Would Martyn See be able to resubmit Singapore Rebel for a review? Until the government addresses these questions, it might still be too early to celebrate the demise of the ban.


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