'Party political film' clarified

The Straits Times
11 May 2005 (Wed)

Films Act: Film-makers seek clarification

WE ARE a group of Singaporean film-makers who would like to seek clarification from the authorities regarding the Films Act and, in particular, the 1998 amendment regarding 'party political films'.

It is our understanding that the 1998 amendment to the Films Act deems it an offence to make, distribute or exhibit 'party political films'.

Such films are defined as any film that 'contains wholly or partly any matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore', or one that 'contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter'.

Under this Act, it appears that there is a ban on work in which we intend to state or imply a stand on current government policy, regardless of what that stand is.

So far, two locally made films featuring opposition politicians, namelySingapore Rebel (2005) and Vision Of Persistence (2001), have been caused to be withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival or the film-makers would have risked a fine of up to $100,000 or two years in prison.

Were these films asked to be withdrawn because they were deemed to contain 'partisan or biased references' or because they contained comments 'on any political matter'?

We ask because, as filmmakers, we feel that almost anything could be construed as a comment on a political matter.

Further, how do we assess whether something is a political matter? Any subject, no matter how innocuous, could become a political matter depending on the circumstances, and we could easily find ourselves contravening the Act inadvertently.

Similarly, we require some guidance on what constitutes 'bias'; after all, all works of art are the expression of the artiste's opinion, which may favour a particular viewpoint or argument over another.

Are film-makers expected not to render any opinion at all to be considered neutral?

For instance, it is open to interpretation whether Jack Neo's film, I NotStupid, which is clearly a critique of the Singapore education system, and TanPin Pin's Moving House, which appears to be a critique of the grave-exhumation policy in Singapore, have run afoul of the Act.

The current state of the legislation poses unintended dangers for sincere film-makers, and we would be grateful if the authorities could issue a formal explanation clarifying the application of this law.

It would be a waste to spend resources making a film, only to find out that it is unlawful because it has inadvertently run afoul of the Films Act.

Tan Pin Pin (Ms)
on behalf of 10 other film-makers

The Straits Times
14 May 2005 (Sat)

'Party political film' clarified

I REFER to the letter, 'Films Act: Film-makers seek clarification' (ST, May 11).

The Films Act defines a party political film as a film 'which is an advertisement made by or on behalf of any 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'. It is also one 'which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore'.

It is not true that all films with political themes will be disallowed under this second limb.

The ban here is only on films which deal with political issues in a partisan manner, such as a film aimed at furthering the cause of a political party or influencing the outcome of an election, or which presents a one-sided view of political issues of the day. Unbiased reporting of political issues on film would not be unlawful.

'Party political films' are disallowed because they are an undesirable medium for political debate in Singapore. They can present political issues in a sensational manner, evoking emotional rather than rational reactions, without affording the opportunity for a meaningful rebuttal or explanation to audience and viewers.

The Films Act does not affect the scope of open political debate in Singapore. There remains ample opportunity for political parties and their supporters to express their opinions in books, newspapers, party publications and websites on the Internet.

Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts

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