SPEECH BY RADM (NS) LUI TUCK
YEW SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR INFORMATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE
ARTS AT SECOND READING OF FILMS (AMENDMENT) BILL IN PARLIAMENT 23
MARCH 2009, 3.00PM
Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move "That the
Bill be now read a second time”.
Rationale for the 1998 amendments to
disallow party political films
In 1998, the Minister for the then
Ministry of Information and The Arts, BG George Yeo, spoke in this
House to amend the Films Act to disallow party political films. He
emphasised the undesirability of the film medium as a platform to
conduct political discourse. This was because party political films
can be employed to sensationalise or present serious issues in a
biased and emotional manner. We should keep politics objective and
rational rather than allow emotions to be whipped up in place of
Rationale remains valid
The purpose of the restriction was to
ensure that people debated politics seriously and not allow it to be
reduced to a contest where political parties and candidates promote
themselves through camera angles, sharp and slick editing techniques
or emotive, slanted presentations. This purpose remains valid.
However, the world has changed over the past decade. The web is
ubiquitous and is a major source of multi-media information.
Societal norms have evolved. We have to adjust to this new
environment while recognising that we still want politics to be
treated as a serious matter.
We should not prevent people from
recording video clips of political events held in accordance with
the law or from making factual documentary videos of political
issues and events. But we must continue to have limits against
undesirable political materials, for example, fictionalised accounts
or political commercials, even though it may not be possible to
enforce these limits completely. Hence we have tabled amendments to
the Films Act. How the parameters in this Bill will be interpreted
and where the limits will be drawn can be subjective and a matter of
judgement. Therefore, we propose to establish an independent
advisory committee, the Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC),
to advise the Board of Film Censors.
The changes we are making are
significant ones and will bring our rules up to date. We also
recognise that the situation is dynamic and the environment will
continue to evolve. We are prepared to make further changes when it
is appropriate to do so.
Technological and societal changes
In the decade that has passed since the
Bill was first moved, technology had advanced rapidly. Singaporeans
are very much plugged in to new media. Household broadband
penetration rate is close to 100 per cent and mobile penetration
rate is 131 per cent.
The Internet and the emergence of Web
2.0 technology have drastically transformed the way in which
information is produced, disseminated, shared and consumed. New
media technology has enabled communities to be formed around shared
interests and for people to access information, participate in and
be connected across a wide variety of issues, ranging from national
and political matters to specific interests and hobbies.
Adept at using Web 2.0 communication
tools, many Singaporeans, especially the young, have blogs and
Facebook accounts. With the ubiquity of recording devices and widely
and freely available editing software, you can shoot a film on your
handphone or digital camera, edit it on your computer, and publish
your work instantly on the web – on your blog, on your Facebook and
share them with friends or on YouTube where the rest of the world
can view them.
The texture of our society has also
evolved. With better education and greater exposure to the world
through travel, globalisation and the Internet, our generation of
young Singaporeans today are different. They want more of the
following – space for political discourse, greater engagement with
the Government, and their views to be taken seriously by the
It is therefore important that the
Government learns to make better use of the medium of film and new
media tools to reach out and engage, inform, educate and obtain the
views of media-savvy Singaporeans.
In other countries, we have seen how new
media and social networking tools have been used in political
In the 2007 Australian elections, which
were dubbed the “Facebook Elections” - Facebook was used extensively
by Kevin Rudd, now the Prime Minister, to reach out to young voters.
The US presidential elections last year
was dubbed the “YouTube Elections”. Presidential candidate Barrack
Obama had used YouTube extensively and a spectrum of new media
platforms from Flickr to Twitter, to connect with different groups
Closer to home, the last Malaysian
elections also saw extensive use of new media tools and videos by
interested parties. While some videos were factually true, many were
deliberately misleading and calculated to arouse and stir emotions
by portraying only a certain viewpoint and selecting only certain
Indeed, this is one of the downsides to
politics conducted over the Internet – videos and advertisements
edited deliberately to distort what was said, to cast doubt and to
push a certain agenda. Knowing that it was impossible to correct
every untruth on every site, Obama set up one website called “Fight
the Smears” in an attempt to set the record straight on rumours,
gossips, half-truths and lies which were pervasive over the
Therefore, while videos, films and new
media can be widely used and can improve communications, we must be
mindful that they can be easily abused. This is the reason why, even
as we liberalise, there needs to be some safeguards to minimise the
risk that they will be exploited and to reduce the undesirable
Why only certain party political
films are allowed under amended Films Act
Mr Speaker Sir, the Government
recognises that Singaporeans, in particular our young, want greater
space for political discourse. Over the years, the Government has
liberalised and widened the space for expression and participation,
and has encouraged citizens to engage in objective dialogue and
participate in building a better Singapore for everyone. When Web
1.0 came on the scene, government ministries and agencies created
websites and online feedback channels as well as chat rooms and
bulletin boards to communicate with Singaporeans. A light-touch
approach was also adopted towards regulating the Internet. With Web
2.0, the ministries and agencies are also learning to use new media
platforms to interact with citizens. Moving forward, the Government
will adopt an even lighter touch with the Internet.
Mr Speaker Sir, the amendments that I
seek to make to the Films Act today is another significant step
taken by the Government to further liberalise and expand the space
for greater political discourse.
With the amended Films Act, we will
allow certain types of films which could otherwise be party
political films - that is, films that are factual and objective, and
do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture. Let me explain.
At the start of my speech, I had
recapped that the intent of disallowing party political films is to
keep a proper balance between the emotive and the rational for
political debates in Singapore. This is a necessary safeguard given
the experiences of recent elections in other countries. This is
because anyone can easily shoot and produce a film, and circulate it
widely. With sophisticated editing and computer technology today,
one can do almost anything to sensationalise or distort the facts
and pass this off as the truth.
As Honourable Members would be well
aware, pictures could be superimposed on one another, doctored or
manufactured to make a scene or situation look real when it is not,
such as to portray a well-known political figure of a particular
religion indulging in the practices of another religion. It can be
considered character assassination but more significantly, it is a
dangerous act with gross ill intent to stoke religious
Another example is how factual film
footages could be edited slickly to remove the proper context of the
original footages. Whatever examples we use, whether it is a crude
distortion or one that is so subtle and slick that the untruth
appears as the truth, the intention is to mislead and confuse the
viewers in pursuit of a certain agenda.
At this point, allow me to address the
oft-quoted argument that since the Internet has made it almost
impossible to enforce the law, the ban on party political films is
meaningless and the Films Act is rendered archaic. Critics argue
that such films, including banned films, are available on the
Internet and people can watch them and so we should do away with the
There are good reasons to make a
distinction between what happens in the virtual world and the real
world. First, while we recognise that there are practical
limitations to prevent all undesirable films from circulation on the
Internet, it is sensible and practical not to allow copies of such
films from circulating widely and taking root outside of cyberspace.
It is still a large and significant audience in the real world.
Second, there is a distinct difference in the effect and impact of
watching a film alone through a computer terminal off the Internet
and having a group of people watch it together. Unlike an excited
individual, an excited group of people can easily fuel and
exacerbate the emotions.
Furthermore, regulatory legislation is
not just about enforcement. It is also about making a statement
about what our society recognises as the acceptable norms and the
fundamental standards for what is considered the proper conduct of
political debate and electioneering in our country.
Our original concerns about films that
sensationalise and distort are therefore still valid today but
neither should we impose a total ban on all party political films.
In line with the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the
Impact of New Media on Society, or AIMS, a gradual, calibrated
approach in relaxing the regulations on party political films have
Amendments to the Films Act
The Films Act will be amended to allow
for certain types of films which could today be party political
films. Currently, all party political films are banned except for
reporting of current affairs and films to inform or educate persons
on the procedures and polling times for any election or national
referendum in Singapore. Firstly, we are amending section 2(3)(a) to
spell out more clearly that exemption applies to films made solely
for the purpose of reporting of news by a licensed broadcasting
Secondly, we will also expand section
2(3) to allow films that are factual and objective, and do not
dramatise and/or present a distorted picture. With the amendments,
the following will no longer be considered as party political films:
(1) Live recordings of events held in
accordance with the law;
(2) Anniversary and commemorative videos
of political parties;
(3) Factual documentaries, biographies
(4) Manifestoes of political parties
produced by or on behalf of a political party; and
(5) Candidate’s declaration of policies
or ideology produced by or on behalf of the candidate.
Films with animation and dramatisation
and distort what is real or factual will be disallowed, as the
intent of the amendments is to ensure that these films do not
undermine the seriousness of political debate.
Mr Speaker Sir, these amendments will
allow much leeway for political parties and election candidates as
well as individuals to produce party political films. At the same
time, this will allow for political debate in Singapore to remain
serious and robust.
Party political films allowed for
Internet election advertising
To further liberalise the space for
political expression, we have considered carefully and will
correspondingly relax the Internet election advertising regulations.
Political parties and their election candidates will be able to use
films allowed under the amended Films Act during an election period.
This goes beyond the recommendation of AIMS, which had in fact
recommended that there be a blackout period for party political
films during an election.
Independent advisory committee to
assess party political films
In line with the AIMS’ recommendation,
the Government will set up an independent advisory committee to
advise the Board of Film Censors, or BFC, on whether any film is a
party political film, and the film is allowed under the amended
Films Act. This will be called the Political Films Consultative
Committee, or PFCC.
We had earlier announced the Chairman of
the PFCC, who is Mr Richard Magnus, retired Senior District Judge
and Chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority. Should Parliament
pass the Bill, Mr Magnus will then proceed to form the Committee and
draw members from relevant fields, for example, the academia, legal
fraternity, labour movement, the print media, and the film sector.
In consultation with the Chairman, the Minister for Information,
Communication and the Arts will then appointbetween 6-8 members to
form this advisory committee.
The PFCC members will exercise judgement
to assess if a film is a party political film or comes within any of
the exclusions in the Bill, and give their assessment to the BFC.
The BFC and PFCC have a challenging task at hand. As with assessing
and rating films with some degree of sex, nudity, violence and
coarse language, 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. 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 we have established for them in the Bill.
Process of determining a party
Currently, unless exempted under section
40 of the Films Act, all films are required under section 14 to be
submitted to the BFC for classification. Films exempted include
films made by individuals that are not intended for distribution or
public exhibition, as long as these are not obscene or party
political. Examples are that of wedding celebrations and birthday
parties and corporate training videos.
The BFC will assess all films submitted
to it for classification. Any film that the BFC considers could be a
party political film will be sent to the PFCC for their evaluation
and views. The BFC will study the PFCC’s recommendation before
making its decision as to the status of the film.
Any owner of a film that disagrees with
the Board’s decision can appeal to the Films Appeal Committee or FAC,
which is already provided for in the Films Act. The FAC is made up
of private and public sector individuals. Its decision on appeal is
Mr Speaker Sir, the amendments will
significantly open up a much larger space for political discourse
using the medium of film. We trust that individuals, political
parties and filmmakers will find ample opportunities to bring their
message across in creative and constructive ways through films that
do not distort or dramatise. In doing so, we will continue to keep
our political discourse sober and rational.
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