Which countries ban political films?

April 11, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Here’s a little trivia for our readers: What appears on the Google search engine when one types ban political film?

Answer: Singapore appears in the top three slots. The other pages reveal an even contest between Singapore’s ban on political films and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11 (which, by the way, enjoyed a successful run in Singapore cinemas last year).

Another interesting search result is the review of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film, The Silence and The Door (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/apr2000/sff5-a27.shtml), which was screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2000. Get this: The film was about how Iran bans political films.

From the days of Shah Mohammed Pahlavi, who came to power in a CIA-organised military coup in 1953, virtually every aspect of film production and distribution in Iran was under government control. Back then, films critical of the regime or those with explicit references to poverty and the disadvantaged were censored or banned outright.
Following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fundamentalist regime tightened censorship and imposed strict control over film content. Some 2,000 films were cut or banned outright; many filmmakers were indicted on charges of corrupting the public. Films cannot directly criticise the government or make political exposures of social conditions. This is Iran, one of the most repressive societies on earth.

Now compare this with the modern metropolis that is our Singapore. The regime here, like their cousin in Iran, also bans films that directly criticise the government or make political exposures of social conditions. Test: Dare anyone make a film about the CPF system and show how it, having forced Singaporeans to save at a rate that is by far the highest in the world, now has problems supporting retirees?

Even films not directly criticizing the PAP, but documenting the work of oppositionists like Mr J B Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan are prohibited. Producers of films on the two oppositionists have been threatened with imprisonment if they did not withdraw their documentaries from the Singapore International Film Festival. But this is where rule ends when it comes to the PAP because Channel News Asia has produced and is set to broadcast a look at five PAP ministers at work and at their regular haunts. The documentary lets viewers get up close with these ministers and lets them get to know the PAP leaders better.

Not only is it necessary for the PAP to constantly promote its officials, it is also vital to ensure that the public remains as ignorant of the opposition as possible. The ignorance can later be replaced by ad hominem attacks on opposition leaders. Mr George Yeo, one-time Minister for Information and the Arts, understands this process very well when he said: “In the wrong hands film can have a powerful impact.

For those unfamiliar with the Films Act, it states that production and distribution of tapes whose content are directed at a political end are banned. And what constitutes a political end? The Act defines this as anything that:

(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.

In other words the Government can label any film as an issue of public controversy or related to politics and ban them. Again to remind readers, the documentary that Channel News Asia is going to broadcast is considered perfectly legal. Shades of the time when the Attorney-General ruled that the PAP ministers illegal entry into political stations in the 1997 general election were absolutely legal.

How did this Films Act come about? The Act was amended when the Singapore Democrats produced a 20-minute documentary in 1996 to explain its policies and platform to Singaporeans. Hitherto, the film was legal. But the PAP banned the video and quickly legislated to outlaw the production of such documentaries. However, the law applies only to the opposition.

Such is the abuse of power by the PAP. This has to change.