The controversial video by the People’s Action Party’s youth wing – Young PAP – had been approved by the Media Development Authority (MDA) earlier in the year, local news reported on Wednesday.
“It does not fall under the category of political films which are banned in Singapore,” the Straits Times quoted an MDA spokesman as having said.
The paper added:
“This is because it does not have animation or dramatic elements. The video is also made by a political party and comprises its manifesto and ideology, on the basis of which the party’s candidates will seek to be elected.
“Films fulfilling these criteria can be excluded from the ban on political films.”
The question of whether the video had contravened the law, namely the Films Act which governs the creation and distribution of party political films, had been raised by several members of the public, including filmmaker Martyn See.
Mr See had posted on his Facebook page on Monday, 12 May, that the video was a party political video, citing Section 33 of the Films Act.
Among other things, the Act says:
Any person who —
makes or reproduces any party political film;
knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the film to be a party political film shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.
party political film” means a film —
(a) 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; or
(b) which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore;
The ban on political films in Singapore was first imposed in 1998. In 2009, the government amended the Act to “allow films that are factual and objective, and do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture.”
In moving for the changes in Parliament, the then Minister for Information and Communications, Lui Tuck Yew, said that “the intent of the amendments is to ensure that these films do not undermine the seriousness of political debate.”
As such, he said the following would no longer be considered as party political films:
(i) Live recordings of events held in accordance with the law;
(ii) Anniversary and commemorative videos of political parties;
(iii) Factual documentaries, biographies or autobiographies;
(iv) Manifestoes of political parties produced by or on behalf of a political party; and
(v) Candidate’s declaration of policies or ideology produced by or on behalf of the candidate.
Also, “films with animation and dramatisation and distort what is real or factual will be disallowed.”
Mr Lui said the government would also appoint a Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) which will “exercise judgment to assess if a film is a party political film or comes within the exclusions in the Bill, and give their assessment” to the Board of Film Censors.
Mr Lui said that “assessing whether a film is a party political film is not an exact science.”
“There will be an element of subjectivity and there will be grey areas,” he said. “What is factual, what is not? What contributes to an objective or non-objective film? Members of the BFC and PFCC will have to apply their minds and interpret within the parameters that we have established for them in the Bill.”
He reiterated the reasons for relaxing the law on some of these political films.
“Our position is that the Government is only disallowing what would be dramatised, sensationalised and emotive party political films which will do harm to rational and objective political debate,” Mr Lui said.
Then Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Sylvia Lim, however, said the amendments still left many confused.
“The current amendment will still leave many film-makers, civic-minded citizens and political parties confused and bewildered over the many limitations imposed on permissible political films,” Ms Lim said in Parliament then. “The Bill suggests that the Government is still somewhat paranoid when it comes to opening up the political landscape.”
Ms Lim pointed out, for example, that despite the amendments, the issue on whether a political film is biased or partisan “is now clearly dependent only on the opinion of the Board of Film Censors.”
She said that this was even as the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) had recommended the year before that the Board should not exercise the function which should be passed to a group of independent adjudicators comprising of citizens of high standing with public respect.
“Instead, the new section 4A allows the Government to appoint ‘Advisory Committees’ (the PFCC) to advise the Board on such matters; however, the section makes it clear that the Board can override the views of the PFCC,” Ms Lim said.