Officials from the Media Development Authority (MDA) barged in on a private screening of a film entitled One Nation Under Lee and demanded that the organisers hand over the DVD.
The 45-minute movie is critical narration of how Mr Lee Kuan Yew rode to power championing democracy and then using it to consolidate his power by crush his opponents and the media.
Halfway through the screening which took place at the Peninsula-Excelsior Hotel this afternoon, three officers from the MDA burst in and said that the screening was an offence.
A group of activists then asked them on what authority did they have to insist on stopping the screening as it was a private event, not unlike, for example, a wedding where videos of the betrothed are played for guests.
The gatecrashers, comprising of assistant director Mr Tan Chiu Kee, Mr Ahmad Kasbari and Ms Padmamuthu, cited the Films Act which states that “it is an offence to have in your possession or to exhibit or distribute any film without a valid certificate.” This would make almost all Singaporeans violators of the Act.
After a lengthy exchange the Master of Ceremonies, Mr Chia Ti Lik, allowed the three into the hall. The crowd burst into sacrcastic applause and the officers responded with sheepish smiles. The police at one stage arrived but left whithout doing much.
“Please hand over the film,” Mr Tan demanded.
“Please come up to the front, introduce yourselves and you can have it,” the MC invited.
With the DVD in hand the officers left. The event continued with Mr Martyn See and Mr Seelan Palay offering their views on the Films Act.
“If it is an offence to screen such a film, then everyone with a birthday or wedding video would be criminalised,” Mr See said, adding that artists and writers must not be afraid to document and write when they see and hear.
He said that the film would be a “fantastic learning tool” for students and anybody who is interested in learning about Singapore should watch it.
Mr Seelan added that as an artist, he cannot care so much about laws. “Otherwise, art cannot take place. I need to make films about what I see and sometimes laws don’t allow that.”
At this juncture, the MDA officers came back and demanded that the LCD projector used for the screening be handed over as well.
“No, you can’t have it,” insisted Mr Chia Ti Lik. “You are exceeding your powers and you have no right to take it.”
Ms Chee Siok Chin made it clear that the officers were already given the DVD and had no right to the LCD projector.
Some members of the audienced weighed in and told the officials that they were rude by intruding in on a private function. “You already have the video, what more do you want?” one of the attendees pointed out.
Sensing that the organisers were not going to back down, the officials retreated and left.
How the authorities received word about the function is anyone’s guess but admission was restricted to those who had purchased a ticket.
The film contained interviews with Messrs Francis Seow, Said Zahari and J B Jeyaretnam as well as musical clips critising Ministers’ salaries and the GIC. The film had both educational and inspirational qualities. Perhaps this is why the MDA was particularly anxious to get its hands on it.
Witnessing the entire incident were two US embassy officials who were among the invited guessts.
Another group of media activists had also conducted a similar screening of videos at an art gallery at Rowell Road. The films were about the SDP’s election rallies in 2006 and the WB-IMF protests at Hong Lim Park in September 2006. That screening took place without incident.