22 May 2008


Censors interfere with screening of critical film, seize disc

Incident details

Seelan Palay

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Singapore authorities attempted to stop a private screening of a critical film on Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on 17 May 2008, alleging that the screening violated the Films Act, according to news reports.

Section 21(1)(b) of the Films Act forbids the screening of a film that has not been vetted by the censors, punishing violators with a maximum fine of S$40,000 (approx. US$29,428), or a jail term of up to six months, or both.

Three officers from the Media Development Authority (MDA), claiming they were acting on a "tip-off", went to the hotel where the film, "One nation under Lee", was being premiered, and requested the disc, alleging that it had not been vetted by the censors.

The night before the screening, the Board of Film Censors had warned the organisers of the offence they would be committing under the law if they had not submitted the film for approval.

The 45-minute film is produced and directed by artist/activist Seelan Palay. It documents former premier Lee's rise to power through a host of restrictive measures on civil liberties, criticises the economic and political governance of the ruling party and pays tribute to the efforts of activists and citizens who persist in claiming and exercising their democratic rights. The film can be viewed online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17qhGIwyGj0
The MDA officers claimed that the action was a matter of ensuring compliance with the law, and not an act motivated by objection to the content of the film. Yet when organiser Chee Siok Chin, a leading member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, argued that the broad terms of the law would also subject to such censorship every wedding dinner that showed videos of the happy couple, one of the officials said: "This is not the same as a wedding dinner", clearly contradicting their earlier statement regarding their indifference to the film's content.

The MDA officials later brought in plainclothes officers in an attempt to detain the organisers for obstruction of justice. They left, however, when Chee agreed to hand over the film, as the screening had fortunately ended by that time.

However, the officials returned moments later for the projector; they faced a spirited refusal by the organisers and the 70-strong audience, who insisted they had no right to the equipment. A recording of what transpired can be viewed on line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6by3jJwoTrQ
The authorities are reportedly investigating the screening.

The Singapore government has long maintained a tight rein on free expression in the country, allegedly in the interest of maintaining public order and social harmony in the tiny city-state of 4.6 million people. The local media are controlled through ownership, while foreign media and opposition leaders are given a beating in the courts through successful civil defamation suits, sending a chilling message to citizens. Despite this, pockets of civil society continue to find creative ways to claim their right to expression, from holding demonstrations of one to four persons (the law requires a permit for gatherings of five or more, which is often refused to the opposition) and expressing themselves through the arts.

SEAPA is a coalition of press freedom advocacy groups from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Established in November 1998, the network aims to unite independent journalists and press-related organisations in the region into a force for the protection and promotion of press freedom and free expression in Southeast Asia. SEAPA is composed of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), the Jakarta-based Institute for the Study of the Free Flow of Information (ISAI), the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Thai Journalists Association.


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