NMP Siew Kum Hong stood as the LONE DISSENTER to the Films Act amendments being passed even as Opposition voices in Parliament support the PAP “in principle”.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I hereby applaud Mr Siew Kum Hong for having the courage to stand up for his conviction and voice out the sad truth behind the Films Act amendments which are NOT a step towards liberalization AT ALL.
TODAY newspaper, 24 March 2009
IT WAS a rare move by a Nominated Member of Parliament. As the vote was called, Mr Siew Kum Hong specifically asked Deputy Speaker Matthias Yao to place his “No” vote on record.
His strong feelings on the proposed changes to the Films Act were one end of the spectrum of responses yesterday from six parliamentarians, as the House passed the Bill that would allow certain types of party political films.
Coming more than a decade after the Films Act was tweaked to ban all party political films, it’s a move the Government feels will “significantly” widen Singaporeans’ political space.
But Mr Siew disagreed. Taking issue with the “problematic phrasing” of the new laws, he said: “These amendments do not seem to represent a material or true liberalisation … it will not fix the problems that need to be fixed and I cannot, in good conscience, support such a piece of legislation.”
In contrast, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng applauded the Government’s “nuanced shift” in recognising “the need to adjust to the changing media landscape and the people’s desire for more political space”.
She cautioned, though: “Political films that intentionally distort the truth, mislead the public and incite them to rise up in misguided anger should be kept out.”
With NMP Thio Li-Ann and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim supporting the Bill in principle — despite their dissatisfaction with the pace of liberalisation — Mr Siew was the lone dissenter to the amendments being passed. Ms Lim felt they were a step in the right direction, if a reflection that the Government was still “somewhat paranoid”.
These changes allow party political films that comprise “live” recordings of lawful events, factual documentaries, party manifestos and a candidate’s declaration of policies or ideology.
But films “with animation and dramatisation and (that) distort what is real or factual will be disallowed”, said Senior Minister of State (Information, Communication and the Arts) Lui Tuck Yew. Such films will be referred by the Board of Film Censors to a consultative committee chaired by retired Senior District Judge Richard Magnus, who is “known for his impartiality”, said Mr Lui.
The board will, however, retain the final say. Mr Lui called this a practical arrangement, as the views of the committee of the “eight to nine” appointed members may not always be unanimous. Film-makers can appeal the board’s decision.
OB markers, unwitting offenders
The amendments to the Films Act were set in motion last year with the appointment of the Advisory Council on the Impact of the New Media on Society (Aims).
While critics felt the amended laws fell short of Aims’ recommendations, Mr Lui pointed out that the Government went against Aims’ suggestion of a “blackout period”, in allowing political parties and election candidates to air approved party political films during electioneering.
But Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Penny Low was concerned over the new law’s “vague language and broad constructs”.
“It is questionable if good documentaries could and should be produced ‘without any animation and composed wholly of an accurate account depicting actual events, persons and situations’” and without dramatisation, she argued.
To this, Mr Lui said some degree of dramatisation and animation would be permitted.
Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad urged “greater clarification of the OB markers” for film-makers. But it is not just the professional auteurs who run the risk of flouting the new law unwittingly.
For example, Mr Siew pointed out, bystanders may “whip out their mobile phones to record videos” of an illegal assembly or procession without knowing the event was unlawful.
‘Trust the process, people’
While Prof Thio felt the remaining restrictions on party political films were unfair to opposition parties given their lack of access to the mainstream media, Mr Zaqy argued that it is the ruling party being disadvantaged “compared to political parties (that) circumvent the laws”.
Mr Lui reiterated that there were “sufficient avenues for political parties, individuals to get their views across” including on platforms such as Parliamentary debates, the mainstream media, party newsletters and the Internet.
Asked how much time it would take for films to be approved — especially during the urgency of the hustings — Mr Lui said it should be faster than the one week to two months that the board takes to classify all films and videos.
He reiterated that there was “always going to be an element of subjectivity” in assessing party political films and Singaporeans “have got to trust the process and the people selected” on the consultative committee.
The amendments, he concluded, “bring about what I believe to be significant liberalisation and change, and it will widen the space for political discourse”.