31 May 2005

The Good President

The month of May opened with the death of former President Wee Kim Wee and the media extravaganza of his state funeral. Eileen Chew remarked that "on camera, everyone kept emphasising his goodness but I see only a handful shed tears at his passing." Johnny Malkavian goes one-up on her: on camera, in front of the entire nation, MiniLee was smiling as he commented on Dr Wee’s passing. Malkavian rants, "Nathan cried, and for goodness sake, even his (i.e. MiniLee's) father wept."

But I digress. The media extravaganza was reminiscent of St Reagan the Good's funeral last year. In both cases, party hacks from the press and the broadcast media invented the mythology of the People's President, to be repeated ad nauseum to the public until they relent and agree. For Wee Kim Wee though, the script was less credible and even more transparent - in short, insincere.

ST readers would've noticed, in the coverage of the lying-in-state (yes, we were bombarded with the coverage of the People's President for a whole week), an unironic piece on how a primary school pupil was made to attend the funeral by their teacher, so as to better understand the greatness and good nature of the man. That, despite the fact that the kid wasn't even born when Dr Wee retired from his post.

I mean, NO ONE called President Wee a People's President during his term in office from 1985 to 1993. Think about that for a moment. Not only do we have party hacks in the ST, they apparently are also staffed with revisionist historians.

Good President, Bad President

It does make rational sense (as much as malevolence is rational), if we consider what ST thinks are the needs of the nation.

1. The nation must be reminded that Devan Nair is a Bad President. There is no better way than to contrast him with the Good President Wee.

2. The Bad President Devan Nair is like Snowball; the threat he represents must be engraved in the minds of all Singaporeans without the need to invoke his name.

3. President Wee is a People's President. President Wee has always been the People's President.

4. President Ong Teng Cheong was a Bad President. As the first Elected President to hold the powers of guardianship over the national reserves, President Ong erred in applying his job description to his own political party and masters, who held 77 out of 81 seats in Parliament. No, you see, the Elected President is expected to function aa a figurehead, like the old President post. It's only in the case of an upset victory by the opposition that the EP is expected to function as the guardian.

By taking his office seriously and challenging Goh Chok Tong's government on the issue of the reserves, President Ong had become an obstructionist. This is why he wasn't given a state funeral or the idolising media treatment upon his death in 2002. He is the only one out of the nation's 4 dead Presidents who has not had a state funeral.

In fact, the incumbent (or should I say outgoing?) President SR Nathan knows what is expected of a Good President. In the words of Devan Nair, who thought it was the silliest job in the world, all you need to do is cut ribbons and attend charity concerts.

26 May 2005

The Coming Battle for Mastery of Southeast Asia

Ruminations from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

They say a great idea never dies; it is merely adopted by others. In Europe, the Third Reich, Hitler's dream of a unified Europe was resurrected by the victorious Allies as the European Common Market, then the European Commission, and then the European Union. In Asia, since the 1960s, Japan, spurred on by America, resurrected its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, to the benefit of the economies and citizens of Southeast Asian countries.

With the stagnation of Japan's economic juggernaut and the expected ascendence of China, a battle for the mastery and the shape of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere has begun. The old US-Japan axis treated Southeast Asia in the beginning as a source of raw materials for Japan's industry, but very swiftly decided to industrialise the region in order to provide cheap manufactured goods for export to the axis. On the whole, Southeast Asia has little to complain about this arrangement as it was a real beneficiary, along with its new middle classes.

China's rise, on the other hand, does not augur well for Southeast Asian economies. Leveraging on cheaper land, cheaper labour, cheaper cost of manufacturing, the region bleeds blue collar, white collar and factories to China as it begins to integrate with the global economy. The problem is de-industrialisation and loss of skilled employment due to outsourcing to China - when both ends of employment cannot 'compete', when can Southeast Asians do better, cheaper than the Chinese? What does China need from Southeast Asia? It produces cheaper than them. Its workers, high or low-skilled, are cheaper than theirs.

The worry is Southeast Asia will serve no more than a source of cheap raw materials for its new master in the North. De-industrialisation. A roll-back, if not closure, of the knowledge economies of Singapore and Malaysia. An unwanted return to the bad old days of 19th century industrialisation, where central powers devastated the existing economies of occupied countries ("colonies") in their periphery into mere sources of raw materials for their hungry factories and their own middle classes.

24 May 2005

Why Singapore supports Japan's UN Security Council Bid

Ruminations from the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere

Southeast Asia was under Japanese occupation as brutal as that suffered by China and South Korea during WW2. Yet almost 60 years after the end of the conflict, ASEAN nations share little of China or both Koreas' lingering and pungent resentment of Japan.

Whereas the recent incident of the textbooks drew howls of protest and stage-approved demonstrations attended largely by young adults whose grandparents had suffered under Japanese occupation, Southeast Asian leaders said nothing, aside from quiet platitudes about the need for Japan to give a clear indication to the world that it isn't trying to deny any Nanking Massacre.

Singapore and other countries in this region will support Japan's bid for the UN Security Council seat, unlike the opposition of the Chinese and the two Koreas. Why?

The Pentagon Papers provide the answer. By 1949, the Department of Defense recognised that Japan's factories and economy needed Asian food, raw materials, and markets to continue their rapid ascent. US planners realised the "potential of Communist China as a source of raw materials vital to Japan and a market for its goods", and therefore encouraged "a considerable increase in Southeast Asiatic food and raw materials exports to avoid preponderant dependence on Chinese sources".

By the 1950s, Japan was pressured to break trade relations with China, and access to Southeast Asia was explicitly offered as an inducement.

By the 1960s, the wave of independence in the region was stabilised by Japanese imports and subsidies of industrial machinery, seeding the region's own industrialisation. Southeast Asia had become integrated into Japan's region of the "Free World" economy. The disastrous Great Leap Forward was no foolhardy or crazy scheme, it was China's only alternative, now that it was isolated from the very investments it needed for successful industrialisation - which would not be achieved until Deng.

This is why the wounds of war have healed far better here than in Northeast Asia.

23 May 2005

Funding Scholarships

Readers from our fair isle will do well to note the similarities from elsewhere.

Old news from 5 years ago:

Mafia Scholarships?

Taiwan's gangs are paying the tuition of some university students in exchange for service as accountants or other skilled professionals after graduation...

Gang fronts operating as finance companies will pay school fees and monthly stipends of $900 to $1,200 for needy students...

Students then hand over school transcripts and identification and sign a "contract" agreeing to work for the gangs for an unspecified number of years...

Some very recent news from the US a few days ago:

In the new Intelligence Community Scholars Program (ICSP), "unnamed intelligence agencies" will enter into contractual agreements with individual students. The funding could amount to as much as $160,000 over a four year period.

Here's the kicker:

If ICSP recipients decline to work for their sponsoring intelligence agency upon completing of their education, then the student "shall be liable to the United States for an amount equal to the total amount of the scholarships received [and] the interest on the amounts of such awards which would be payable if at the time the awards were received they were loans bearing interest at the maximum legal prevailing rate, as determined by the Treasurer of the United States, multiplied by three.

(Via Savage Minds)

ST headline tomorrow: Singapore exports government scholarship policies to US (and Taiwan)?

Serve your Taiwanese gangland/US intelligence/Singapore scholarship bond, or have a lousy credit rating for the rest of your life.

Glad to know great minds think alike, really.

21 May 2005

Subvert the Dominant Link Hierarchy!

Because some people won't even recognise "dominant" or "hierarchy" even when the boots are on their faces, StDLH will not take hold in this part of the world...

Brad Delong and Clay Shirkey pose these questions, and fall off the edges of the dark precipice, into the bottomless depths of shrill unholy madness:

Are the best websites - the most interesting, the most informative, the most authoritative - the easiest to find?

Is there a danger that we are drifting toward a web of celebrity rather than of information - one in which well-known sites are well-known and prominent because of their well-knownness rather than their quality?

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world...

A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.

We in the Great, Bountiful and Benevolent Empire of Singapore look on in horror as the internet becomes a sham meritocratic system.

It has to do with human behaviour (darn, some people do need some reeducation and thought-retraining!) - we tend to visit sites that are linked in the blogroll of other sites we've visited. People tend to link overwhelmingly to show either a preference for solidarity, or a solidarity for marketing (I link to X because X seems to be linked by everyone).

Delong takes the view that search engines exacerbate this trend. But readers from the Great, Bountiful and Benevolent Empire of Singapore might say "Search engines are meritocratic!"

Err, right... Each time someone arrives via Google, there's a chance they'll add a link. Sites with lots of links get high PageRanks. Sites with high PageRanks get lots of links. Will the system converge to fundamentals, or will it spiral out of control? Will positive feedback takes hold and in the end create many popular sites that are popular primarily because of their popularity?

And so it begins. Nicholas of Buttermilk has checked into the Hospice That Must Not Be Named, muttering nothing else but "I've been trying very hard not to say anything about tomorrow". Yes, the Order of the Shrill has claimed yet another adherent, this time through the mendacity, incompetence, malevolence, and sheer disconnection from reality of the editors at this virtual Potemkin village.

Nicholas wonders, as do Delong, Shirkey and myself among others, if the blogosphere and even groupblogs have become a web of celebrity and banality instead of information.

18 May 2005

Law and Process

A Great Singapore Purge Now On! Edition

Martyn See was interviewed in the middle of the night by the Police yesterday.

The highlight of his post:

More importantly, I was finally informed of the reason for this police investigation.

ASP Chan said: "I'm informing you that the MDA (Media Development Authority) has on April 11 lodged a police report alleging that Singapore Rebel is a party political film. Do you have anyhing to say to that?"

The mind boggles. Under Sec. 23 of the Film Act, the police are indeed authorised to conduct interviews, launch a search without a warrant, etc. to investigate if a film has not been submitted to the Film Board for classification.

The police are not empowered to investigate if a film is, as alleged by members of the public, a political film. The MDA is in charge of the Film Board, and it should know that it has to first classify Mr See's documentary as a political film in order for the Film Act to be thrown at him. (Of course, this is not the only way the Film Act can be thrown, as I will show shortly after.)

Why then has the MDA lodged a complaint to the police that Mr See has made a political film? Is the police supposed to classify the film for the Film Board? Why is the Film Board not the one lodging a complaint that Singapore Rebel has not been submitted for censorship, as required under sec. 12 (1)?

The police has asked several questions which are appear irrelevant to sec. 12 (1), which Mr See has undeniably violated. They asked instead, "Is Dr Chee a personal friend of yours? Are you a member of any political party in Singapore?" and "Who conceptualised it? Who produced it? Who shot it? Who edited it? Who funded it? How much was spent? What was the objective of the film?"

Once again, I repeat: the police are NOT empowered under the Film Act to decide whether a film is a political film. Perhaps these questions would be more "appropriate" coming from the Film Board.

Films made in Singapore to be deposited in approved warehouse

If Mr See is guilty of any crime, it is this: he has not submitted his documentary to the Film Board for classification.

Sec. 12 states

(1) The owner of any film made in Singapore shall, within 7 days after the making of the film, deposit the film in a warehouse approved for this purpose [Aki: i.e. licensing and classification] by the Board.

(2) Any person who fails to deposit the film in accordance with subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.

And to make it perfectly clear, sec. 2 says a film is:

(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;

Yes. Technically speaking, anything you shoot with a camcorder and have not submitted to the Film Board for classification violates the law. Baby video. Wedding video. Birthday video. EVERYTHING.

Any clip you shot with a cameraphone and videophone comes under the purview of the Film Act.

In case you don't get the point of it all, refer to sec. 78A (3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act:

During the elections period, ANYONE WHO:

(a) provides any programme on the World Wide Web through what is commonly known as the internet under a class licence; and

(b) is required under the conditions of the class licence to register with the Media Development Authority of Singapore on account of that person or group of persons engaging in or providing any programme for the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore.

Presumably, this unironic, wide-ranging, vaguely-phrased law was crafted to prevent political parties from using non-official websites to campaign for them during an election period.

Let's see if the police haul up all bloggers during the next election period for not registering with the MDA. Or if the MDA lodges a police report that some blogger has opened a political site.

Why oh why are we ruled by these fools?

17 May 2005

Singapore's Digital Bantustan

Another Great Singapore Purge Now On! Edition


Bantustan. Any one of the sham independent states, "ethnic homelands", set up by the apartheid government for Black South Africans. The boundaries of these native reserves were drawn to exclude all economically-viable land, often discontiguous, and an overwhelming citizens of these homelands had to find employment anyway in South Africa.

Bantustan. Yasser Arafat complains the Israeli concessions in the peace negotiations (i.e. the non-concessions of the settlements, the non-concessions of the Great Wall) have always tended to partition the Palestinians into an economically unviable state.

The Singaporean blogosphere.
(And I will personally kick the heel of the next person who speaks of it as the "Singapore blogosphere". That's more of the bad grammar that begat such atrocities like "Uniquely Singapore" and "Singapore Idol". The adjectival form of "Singapore" is "Singaporean".)

Bantustan, or the Singaporean blogosphere

The Straits Times devotes one page a week to showcase examples great blogs, mostly written by Singaporeans, Singaporeans abroad, and the occasional expat or ex-expat.

Safe, "interesting" reads, nothing offensive. Whimsical, lightweight, entertaining. Ergo, a good way to show the world that Singapore is a hip and modern city. Ergo, an exhortation for would-be bloggers to focus on these responsible issues.

At the same time, there has a recruitment of bloggers by the republic's newspapers - all operated by just 2 publishing companies, both owned by the State. The papers elevate and confer veteran status on these bloggers, who were previously merely popular in certain parts of the blogosphere.

By and large, these approved veteran bloggers (Mr Brown operates a column in Today, Xiaxue appears to be an intern with a tabloid) are hip, entertaining, and ultimately, lightweight. Safe and responsible online writing (and yes, Xiaxue is a responsibly irresponsible blogger, as opposed to the irresponsibly irresponsible AcidFlask. Now I shall shoot myself for channeling the spirit of Rumsfeld.).

There are bad, evil, liberal bloggers out there. Attention must be brought on them to accentuate the difference between responsible and irresponsible blogging. So a suitable blogger was threatened with a defamation suit by the head of a statutory board. Statements were taken from veteran bloggers on this affair, and twisted out of context and even misquoted, in order to promote the approved newspapers' reminder of the need for responsible blogging.

And to assure observers that there is no purge of Singapore's bloggers, measures are in place to publicize efforts by employees of the Internet Development Authority to set up groupblogs, presumably run by bloggers, for bloggers with no state interference save the initial 'seeding'. While tomorrow.sg is one such virtual Potemkin village, there is also the lesser-known Singapore Speaks (with the tag line: "Listen to what Singaporeans have to say! We demand to be heard!"), which, given the timidity and insignificance of its 'articles', ought to be called Singapore Whimpers.

What is the Bantustanization of the Singaporean blogosphere, then?

It is the cordoning off of legitimate discourse of bloggers into the ethnic homelands of Browntown, xiaxuecity, and other safe and trivial territory. It is the redrawing of the boundaries, to limit bloggers into a state of non-credible viability. The Great Singapore Purge marches on, claiming the scalp of the self-proclaimed new media.

16 May 2005

Singapore bans US activist for political interference

Great Singapore Purge Now on!

SINGAPORE (AFX) - A US democracy activist has been banned from entering Singapore indefinitely for interfering in the nation's domestic politics, the government said.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, the Southeast Asian coordinator for the group Nonviolence International, was turned away from Changi Airport and sent back to Thailand when he tried to enter Singapore on Friday.

Opposition politician and Singapore Democratic Party secretary general Chee Soon Juan told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Moser-Puangsuwan had been invited to Singapore to give a lecture at a weekend training workshop on non-violent political action.

The Home Affairs Ministry said in an e-mailed statement sent to AFP: 'Foreigners like Yeshua with no stake in the future of Singapore and of Singaporeans will not be allowed to interfere in Singapore's domestic politics, much less to instigate, agitate and promote civil disobedience among targeted segments of society, against the laws of the country.'

The statement concluded: 'The government has therefore decided to bar Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan from entering Singapore indefinitely.'

The Nonviolence International website says Moser-Puangsuwan, a US citizen, is the organization's 'main facilitator of training programs in movement strategy and political struggle' in Southeast Asia.

15 May 2005

A Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Liberal Party (Part 3)

Because all good trilogies have 3 parts in them =P

Today I bring you the analysis. How is Singapore society configured, what does this state tick, in order for a piece of "legislation" like the 1998 Film Act to come into being? Disclaimer: This is not a legal analysis. It is a sociological analysis.

Self-perception of the Government

From sec. 40, the Government sees itself as being capable (in abilities and in due probability) of making a party political film. It may sponsor or pay for a party political film, and yet be above the very law it crafted.

Ergo, the Government is above the law. (Because I did watch the Matrix Reloaded)
Ergo, the Government is really a political party, i.e. the (ironically named) People's Action Party, which masquerades as "THE GOVERNMENT", by virtue of its control of 81 seats in an 83-seat Parliament.
Ergo, the PAP is above the law (when it dons its Government hat).

This paragraph confirms what critics (academics, foreign crusaders) and regular people in Singapore's coffeeshops and rowdy forums already know instinctively. This Chapter gives voice, form, and flesh to the shadows of their doubts.

It's already unsettling that Singaporeans often confuse the Government, the State, the Cabinet, and the People's Action Party for one and the same thing. It's highly disturbing this confusion has been codified into an actual piece of legislation by Singapore's parliamentarians, who should know better.

The Media

All the party political films chapters of the Film Act presuppose a certain model of the media in Singapore. Sec. 2 (3) decoded, reads:

"The boundaries between an innoucous current affairs programme and a propaganda broadcast on behalf of the Government/PAP are exceedingly thin. Therefore we excuse all current affairs programmes broadcast on the state media from this law."

As the maker of Singapore Rebel points out, both his film and the Up Close series on Channelnewsasia let viewers get up close with political figures (the opposition figure in Mr See's film, and PAP cabinet ministers in the TV series). Both humanise their subject politicians, both seek to find out what motivates them.

Ergo, the media is used by the State-Party as its personal political broadcaster.

The ST has attempted to brush this aside by revealing that the PAP party leaders decided not to make a film to commemorate their 50th anniversary. So what? The PAP doesn't need to make a blatantly political film on its own. It shouldn't be too obviously flouting the law.

Ergo, the media is used... oh wait. I said that already.

Prosecution is a procedure of the State, not a procedure of the Judiciary

"The Minister may..." crops up so often, you'd think he makes all the decisions about whether to ban or not to ban a film, and not say, a judge.

You may appeal the film board or the minister's decision should you feel wronged, but the appealing authority is appointed by the minister.

In fact, the police need not seek the permission of a judge to issue a warrant for an investigation for a contravention of the Film Act. Nosiree. They have wideranging and unlimited power, given the complete vagueness of sec. 23 (2) and sec. 34 (1), (2).

In fact, by the time an offender is charged with the Films Act and brought to court, there is nothing for the judge to deliberate. The Minister says it's a dangerous film. The Police have investigated and said so. And the appeals board says yes, it is a political film. So the judge needs to do nothing but assent.

I'm not saying Singapore's judiciary is compliant. However, for the process of prosecution itself to be written into the legislation in this manner, it can be argued that all this presupposes on an already-existing mode of the judiciary here - that of non-interpretation of the law, but mere execution of the interpretations of the ministers.

In other news...

Steven McDermott reports he has found, through an internet forum, a bittorrent link for Singapore Rebel. I urge my readers NOT to download it.

Bittorrent may be an efficient p2p and distribution tool, but Brahm Cohen didn't design it to be a secure tool for underground distribution.

What this means is anyone who downloads that torrent file can, with the right version/client of bittorrent or its modifications, obtain the IP addresses of all other downloaders.

Needless to say, given how our laws are crafted (vaguely) and interpreted (creatively), Singaporean IP addresses would probably be under probe at some point, and possibly charged with sec. 33 of the Act.

Don't think it's too difficult for the police to liaise with Singapore's 3 or so ISPs, since we've already established the police don't even need a warrant for that.

Do NOT be roped into this.

14 May 2005

A Party Broadcast on Behalf of the Liberal Party (Part 2)

Elsewhere, others have offered a textual-legal reading of the Film Act. I will not attempt to cross the same grounds here. Instead of the Film Act as the subject of study, we focus on the Film Act (and only its 1998 revisions) as an artefact - a manifestation or symptom, if you will - of the modes of production and subsequent relations of power inherent in Singapore.

What are the pre-existing conditions of Singapore society that facilitate the specific measures and proposals within the 1998 Film Act? In order to answer this, we first have to marshall our evidence.

The Evidence

Sec. 2 (2) appears to offer a straightforward definition of a political film, but the preceding chapter gives away the true intention of the legislators:

A political film is a film or media broadcast...
1(b) which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore;

Sec. 2 (3) is either uniquely Singaporean, or crafted by unironic legislators with a poor grasp of grammar:

For the avoidance of doubt, any film which is made solely for the purpose of

(a) reporting of current events; or

(b) informing or educating persons on the procedures and polling times for any election or national referendum in Singapore,

is not a party political film.

It seems to say "Yes, you can do all of the above evil things, if you're reporting on current events, or informing people that there is this election".

In case you didn't get the nudge, nudge, wink wink message, here's sec. 40:

1) This Act shall not apply to
(a) any film sponsored by the Government;
(c) any film reproduced from local television programmes and is not intended for distribution or public exhibition.

(2) 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.

"The Government" may make political films that blatantly or subtly influence elections, mould public opinion of its candidates, broadcast them on national propaganda tv. It is exempt to this Film Act, and it is empowered to exempt others (as it sees fit) from this Act.

Under sec. 23 (2); sec. 34 (1-2), the Act gives unlimited power to the police to engage in search without warrants and use of force to investigate violations of the Act. (All these are 1998 provisions) Note that the police authorities do NOT need the opinion of the censorship board to classify a film as violating the Act, in order to launch an investigation. They are also allowed to confiscate all suspected filmmaking material, storage material, etc. (Your cameras, film footage, other film stock for unrelated projects, your computer...)

You can appeal to a committee if you feel your film has been wrongly classified. The 1998 revision adds that the appeals committee will consist of people appointed by the Minister (for the Arts/Communication), under sec. 25 (1).

Even in the original Act itself, the Minister has the power to call for an inspection of any film by the censorship board, and also call for any film that does not contravene the Act (i.e. escaped through some loopholes) to be banned.

The Analysis will come tomorrow... this post is long enough.

12 May 2005

A Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Liberal Party (Part I)

Under the Film Act of Singapore (1998), this episode from season 4 of Monty Python's Flying Circus cannot be shown on local tv.

And now for the non-funny bits of today's blog (since yesterday's was all funny)...

The revision of the Film Act in 1998 by Singapore's parliamentarians turned an anti-obscenity and anti-porn film law into a piece of legislation empowering the police and the film censorship board to monitor and prosecute the makers and distributors of "party political films".

Since then, no one has been prosecuted under this act, so there is no climate of fear and repression in Singapore. In 2002, 4 lecturers from the film school in Ngee Ann Polytechnic (the equivalent of a US community college) submitted to the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF), a documentary on the opposition politician J.B. Jeyaratnam. The four withdrew their film immediately when told by the festival organisors and the censorship board that it was a political film.

This year, filmmaker Martyn See is under the spotlight for submitting a documentary chronicling the political and civil disobedience career of another opposition politician Dr Chee Soon Juan, to the SIFF and was told by the festival's director that he may be jailed and fined if the censorship board feels the film contravened the Films Act. The film was dutifully withdrawn. Unlike the lecturers in 2002, Mr See submitted his documentary to the Amnesty International Film Festival and the New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival, and trailers for the documentary have appeared online.

The filmmaker has recently received polite calls up by police authorities here for an unspecified investigation on his political film.

It will be noted that:

1. The censorship board did not receive the documentary or political film for classification as Mr See withdrew it from the SIFF on the advice of its director, before they were required to submit it to the censors.

2. The film was withdrawn from the SIFF; it was not banned. Neither the censorship board or the SIFF have issued any comments on the film.

3. In the absence of any official announcement from the censorship board to classify the documentary, it is puzzling to see the state machinery police apparently taking the matter into their own hands conducting an interview with the filmmaker.

4. In the likely event that the documentary will be retroactively pronounced by the censorship authorities as a political film, it is puzzling why the machinery of the state have moved, even though the Film Act does not prohibit the same "party political films" to be distributed and shown outside of Singapore. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. There should be another ammendment soon, to close this loophole!)

5. As the filmmaker has no intention of releasing the documentary in Singapore, he is not legally obliged to seek a classification from the censorship board or the police.
(end of update)

Now, all this has happened barely 3 months since cabinet minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke to more than 1,000 students in a youth and media conference, assuring them that nothing will happen even if one breaches an OB marker (like disagreeing with certain national policies and critiquing them).

The manager of the state propaganda machine broadcast company said the key to engaging youths lies in the packaging of political content. He pointed to how wacky political websites and show business figures such as film-maker Michael Moore led the way in encouraging turnout among young voters during last year's US presidential elections.

So much for that... Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 would've been classified as a political film and banned here, if he were a Singaporean.

11 May 2005

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Public Figures?

Yet Another Government-linked Edition

We in the Great, Bountiful and Benevolent Empire of Singapore look on in horror at the sham legal systems in lesser nations.

Under current understanding of defamation law in the US for example,

In order for a public official to recover damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct, he must prove that the statement was made with actual malice; that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether or not it was false.

Yes, you need to prove malice. Apparently in the lawless West, people are allowed to offer balanced and fair criticisms of their leaders' policies. Shocking! Scandalous! You're going to make the whole economy go down, talent will leave, investments will not come - and the US will be sunk!

The US Supreme Court further defined the meaning of actual malice by stating: "And since '... erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and ... it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the "breathing space" that they "need ... to survive" ...,'376 U.S., at 271-272, only those false statements made with the high degree of awareness of their probable falsity ...may be the subject of either civil or criminal sanctions. The test which we laid down in New York Times is not keyed to ordinary care; defeasance of the privilege is conditioned, not on mere negligence, but on reckless disregard for the truth."

Free debate is allowed? Criticism is not defamatory? The horrors! In the words of Sheng-ji Yang, "you must surely realize that Democracy is a menace to right-thinking people everywhere. Common citizens cannot be allowed to question the decisions of their rulers! I urge you to impose strict police control at once!"

An essential element of defamation by libel slander is that the statement published was false. Consequently, if the statement was, in fact true, there can be no defamation, regardless of defendant's motivation. Truth is an absolute defense to a claim of libel.

Further, it is even more difficult for a public figure to launch a defamation suit if say, they have been on record for making a series of controversial or inflammatory statements. In simple English, if you are a good and uncomplicated public figure, it's easier to sue people than opposed to if you were a politician with a motor mouth.

Now, someone like "Singapore's John Bolton", who is on public record for making remarks like these would never be able to launch any defamation suit, ever, in the lawless and decadent West:

"A basic science degree qualifies you to wash test tubes. A master's makes you an advanced washer. And a PhD makes you an ordinary worker."

And it is noted that much of pioneering research is done between a professor and their basic degree or even masters students.

"I don't want whining Singapore boys. They are not mature even though they have national service and are over 22 years old when they take up undergraduate studies. They give me so much trouble and waste our precious time."

Actually they give you trouble only when they are offered postgrad studies and premier research posts by their universities, and have to choose between being compelled to give up these postgrad studies because they aren't allowed to postpone their bonds, or to just simply break the bond in favor of their academic careers.

"That's not my job. My job is to create more jobs. Publishing scientific papers and Nobel Prizes do not create jobs."

And mind you, the "R" in A★★ stands for "Research" - which in common understanding implies scientific papers and Nobel Prizes, not "jobs".

Moral of the story: the world needs to import Singapore's legal system, where even a ham sandwhich can be sued for defamation.

The A★★ Clown Show Continues

Via Reuters,

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore student said on Monday he has shut down his blog and apologised unreservedly after a government agency threatened to sue for defamation. Chen Jiahao, a 23-year-old graduate student in the United States, told Reuters he closed down his personal Web site after A*STAR, a Singapore government agency focusing on science and research, threatened legal action for what the agency said were untrue and serious accusations.

International freedom of speech and media advocates have criticised the agency's methods.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said last week it was alarmed that the threat of defamation lawsuits was being used to inhibit criticism of the government in cyberspace, much as it has in Singapore's traditional media.

Chen said he had removed all material from his site and posted an apology on April 26 after receiving e-mails from the agency's chief. He added that the agency told him last week his apology was insincere and that they wanted a new apology.

On Sunday he posted the new apology on his "Caustic Soda" blog, saying "I unreservedly apologise to A*STAR, its Chairman Mr. Philip Yeo, and its executive officers for the distress and embarrassment caused to them."

"They sent me an e-mail with these words," Chen told Reuters on Monday by telephone from the United States, where he studies chemical physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A*STAR's Yeo said in a statement on Monday he accepted Chen's apology and considered the matter closed. "We wish him well. My invitation to Mr. Chen to meet for tea in the fall still remains," Yeo said.

Paris-based Reporters without Borders said the case highlighted the lack of free expression in Singapore, which is among the 20 lowest-scoring countries in the organisation's worldwide press freedom index.

"Chen criticised some of A*Star's policies but there was nothing defamatory in what he wrote," Julien Pain, head of Reporters without Borders' Internet freedom desk, told Reuters.

A*STAR said in a statement that it recognised the value of a diversity of views and welcomed that in all media. "But the particular public blog had statements which went way beyond fair comment." It did not elaborate.

Bloggers are generally not journalists, but some of the thousands of private online blogs -- short for Web logs -- on the Internet have gained political relevance. The campaign for the May 5 election in Britain saw an explosion of blogs, much like in last year's U.S. presidential election.

"We are troubled that the (Singapore) government has raised the spectre of costly legal action to chill commentary on the Internet," Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, was quoted on a CPJ Web site as saying.

Singapore-based politicians as well as international media organisations have paid large amounts of damages in libel cases brought by senior government figures.

Singapore leaders have defended their use of defamation lawsuits, saying that such actions are necessary to safeguard their reputation.

09 May 2005

Our Very Own...

Seen and heard on the Australian, via SDFonline:

There's Chua Lee Hoong, the ST's most prominent political columnist. She might be Singapore's Maureen Dowd, except the New York Times's Dowd didn't work with the secret police for nine years.

ST headline tomorrow: Singapore has global culture?

There's the founding father of Singapore, the island republic's most prominent (and *still* not retiring) statesman. He might be Singapore's Qin Shi Huang, except the founding father of unified China didn't have the luck of getting an army of foreign geneticists and biopharmaceuticals to work on his immortality potion.

There's MiniLee, the island republic's most prominent son. He might be Singapore's Baby Doc Duvalier, except the son of Papa Doc didn't have a Newspeak tutor.

There's that controversial Philip Yeo, minister and head of a statutory board. He might be Singapore's John Bolton, except the nominee for ambassador to the United Nations didn't actually threaten to sue bloggers for unspecified defamation, or publicly blacklist ex-civil servants in the national propaganda press because they broke their scholarship bonds by pursuing higher degrees and research positions overseas.

06 May 2005

How did Singapore celebrate May Day?

This international holiday commemorates and celebrates the achievements of the historical labour movement, such as unionisation, a standardised work day, annual leave, and the minimum wage and unemployment insurance in some countries.

To celebrate May Day, MiniLee gave a speech on restructuring the Singapore economy and improving workers' lives. The government will help vulnerable workers cope with the changes, he declared, but he rejected going "down the welfare route by subsidising those who cannot find jobs".

Declared MiniLee: people will get lazy, and "eventually you're going to make the whole economy go down, talent will leave, investments will not come - and we will be sunk."

Yes, Singapore is as fragile as a Jenga tower.

Do anything (liberalise, have a multi-party democracy, legalise gay rights, let single mothers buy public housing) and everything will go down, we will be sunk, etc.


We are "not" a welfare state and we do not intend to be a welfare state, but we have ridiculously huge and comprehensive subsidies on public housing, education (subsidising even foreign students), transport, and health care.

I repeat: we heavily subsidise all these things, sometimes even to the point of economic unviability (Singapore produces more university graduates than it needs) but we are not a welfare state? HAH!

01 May 2005

The GLC Clown Show Continues

At every train station, there are huge LCD screens scattered near the waiting bays, stating how much time left till your train arrives.

It seems the schedule system broke down recently.

They've replaced these auto-updating messages on the LCDs at the Northeast line with a static message: "Trains arrive every x minutes."

Well, thank you for that useless piece of information. Unless you tell me when the previous train arrived, I won't have a clue about how much longer I have to wait for the next one.