14 April 2005
Over at Singabloodypore [http://singabloodypore.blogspot.com/], Steven McDermott wrote about the Singapore Rebel [http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com/], a movie about Chee Soon Juan, a well-known opposition figure in Singapore.
Martyn See, the maker of Singapore Rebel, has withdrawn the movie from Singapore’s annual film festival, after the government warned him its political content could land him in jail. This is because the censorship board apparently viewed the film as a “party political film”.
I hereby demystify the legal mumbo jumbo:-
In 1998, the Films Act was amended to introduce the concept of “party political films”. (Prior to that, the only other category of films that the Films Act specifically referred to by subject-matter was “obscene films”. But that’s another story). Essentially, no one is allowed to import, make, reproduce or exhibit any party political film. That means any film:
1. which is an advertisement made by or for any political party in Singapore, or any organisation whose focus is mainly on Singapore’s politics; or
2. which is made by any person and which is directed towards any political end in Singapore.
In turn, the phrase “directed towards any political end in Singapore” is further defined as follows:
For the purposes of this Act, a film is directed towards a political end in Singapore if the film
(a) contains wholly or partly any matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore; or
(b) contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter, including but not limited to any of the following:
(i) an election or a national referendum in Singapore;
(ii) a candidate or group of candidates in an election;
(iii) an issue submitted or otherwise before electors in an election or a national referendum in Singapore;
(iv) the Government or a previous Government or the opposition to the Government or previous Government;
(v) a Member of Parliament;
(vi) a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore; or
(vii) a political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body.
Note the magic words “including but not limited to”. This means that you don’t necessarily have to fall into the examples listed from (i) to (vii) to run foul of the law. As long as you make a film that comments on any political matter (even if not mentioned in the (i)-to(vii) list) , you have made a party political film and you have committed a crime.
Note also the legal definition of film under the Films Act. “Film” isn’t limited to the kind of show you typically associate with a film festival or a trip to a Golden Village cinema. 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
Conceivably, any itsy-bitsy piece of video recording, for example, even 7 seconds of comedic footage showing Balakrishnan hanging out in a gay bar, could be a party political film. And it would be a criminal offence to make such a video.
Waitaminit – I hear you say. Then how can TCS ever even feature PAP politicians on the 9 o’clock news without technically committing an offence?
Ah. The clever folks in Parliament already thought of that. So they snuck in this clever little provision:
For the avoidance of doubt, any film which is made solely for the purpose of…reporting of current events is not a party political film.
Well then – I hear you say. Apart from the news, the PAP won’t be allowed to use film media to spread any of its own messages. Ha!”
Oh please. They aren’t always that bright, but they aren’t that dumb. Those little problems are all taken care of. (It’s really quite easy to make laws exactly the way you want them to be, if you hold 79 out of 81 seats in Parliament). Section 40 of the Films Act says:
“This Act shall not apply to any film sponsored by the Government.”
That is, any film sponsored by the Singapore government is perfectly fine, even if it contains obscene material or explicit political content. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also put this in the Act:
“The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, exempt any person or class of persons or any film or class of films from all or any of the provisions of this Act.”
So any film can be exempted if the Minister likes the film. In other words, even if a film is bursting with political messages, the Minister can still allow the film to be imported, sold, distributed and exhibited – no problems whatsoever – as long as the Minister likes those political messages.
On the other hand, what do you think are the chances of any PAP Minister liking Martyn See’s film? Heh.