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 The film was dutifully withdrawn.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 The film was withdrawn from the SIFF; it was not banned.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.

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