SINGAPORE – Singapore came under pressure from filmmakers on Wednesday to clarify laws on political films after police called in for questioning the director of a film on an opposition leader.
In a letter published in Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, on behalf of 10 colleagues, sought clarification on the Films Act, which says it is an offence to produce, distribute or exhibit 'party political films'.
'We ask because, as filmmakers, we feel that almost anything could be construed as a comment on a political matter,' Tan's letter said.
Under provisions introduced to the Films Act in 1998, anyone involved in producing or distributing 'party political films' – including those containing commentaries on government policies – can be fined up to S$100,000 ($60,860) or jailed up to two years.
'How do we assess whether something is a political matter?' Tan added.
'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.'
The letter was published after Martyn See, a 36-year-old Singapore filmmaker, was asked by police this week to come in for questioning on May 16 regarding his film 'Singapore Rebel' on prominent opposition leader Chee Soon Juan.
[Click the image to view Singapore Rebel.]
See withdrew the documentary from the city-state's annual film festival in March under pressure from government censors, who told festival organisers the work violated the Films Act.
In 2002, a documentary about veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was pulled out from the film festival after its filmmakers were told it breached the act.
Opposition politicians have said the Films Act stifles political debate in the city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party since independence in 1965. Its 84-member Parliament has only two opposition members.
International free-press advocates have repeatedly criticised Singapore for its tight media control.
The government bans non-commercial private ownership of satellite dishes. Films and TV shows are routinely censored for sex and violence.
The government says a high degree of control over public debate and the media is needed to maintain law and order.
The film at the heart of the controversy focuses on the life of Chee Soon Juan, who lost in January a three-year legal battle against defamation charges brought by Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his successor.
The U.S. State Department, in its February annual report, sharply criticised Singapore for using libel suits to intimidate the opposition, saying the threat inhibits opposition politics and has led to a culture of self-censorship in the media.
11 May 2005
Copied and pasted from Sign On Sandiego.