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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08SINGAPORE1289 2008-12-11 09:04:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Singapore
Cable title:  

SINGAPORE TOYS WITH ALLOWING POLITICAL FILMS

Tags:   PGOV PHUM SN 
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VZCZCXRO3520
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGP #1289/01 3460904
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 110904Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6108
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SINGAPORE 001289 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MTS - M. COPPOLA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/11/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SN
SUBJECT: SINGAPORE TOYS WITH ALLOWING POLITICAL FILMS

Classified By: Ambassador Patricia L. Herbold for reason 1.4(d).



1. (C) SUMMARY. Singapore is moving at glacial speed toward
deciding whether, when, and how to allow political films in
the island republic. Singapore's Films Act has long
criminalized political films. After 20 months of work, a
government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New
Media on Society (AIMS) recommended on December 2 replacing
the outright ban with a process in which an advisory panel
would have to certify that a political film is not
"misleading" before it could be shown. The GOS will respond
to the AIMS recommendations in mid-January. One banned
documentary filmmaker told PolOff that he expects the GOS to
crawl toward liberalization of the Films Act but that the
proposed decriminalization would be a significant
contribution to freedom of expression here. END SUMMARY.

The Films Act: 10 Years of Draconian Censorship


--------------------------

--



2. (U) Singapore's Films Act has criminalized political
films since 1998. Section 33 of the Act prohibits importing,
making, reproducing, distributing, or exhibiting any "party
political film," as well as possessing such a film with the
intent to distribute or exhibit it. The Act broadly defines
"party political film" to include any film "directed towards
any political end in Singapore." The only exceptions are
films made solely for the purpose of "reporting current
events" or informing the public about election procedures,
and films sponsored by the GOS. Violations are punishable by
a fine of up to S$100,000 and two years in prison, and the
authorities may seize and detain without warrant any
political film, any associated filmmaking equipment, and any
person in possession of the film. Section 35 of the Films
Act further authorizes the government to ban any film
(political or not) that is, in the opinion of the Minister of
Information, Communication and the Arts, "contrary to the
public interest."

Time to Study the Study


--------------------------





3. (U) The GOS created AIMS in April 2007 to produce, among
other things, recommendations for amendments to the Films
Act. In August 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong publicly
stated that some political films should be allowed, but "with
safeguards," and not to include "purely made-up material,
partisan stuff, (or) footage distorted to create a slanted
impression." On December 2, AIMS delivered a report
consistent with the PM's guidance. The report states, "The
ban on party political films is too wide-ranging and stifling
as the definition of a party political film could cover any
film that touches on politics or government policies." The
report also acknowledges that technology "has outpaced the
law and made it extremely difficult to enforce. Section 33
can be bypassed using YouTube or other online video-sharing
services that cannot be blocked or otherwise regulated
without serious damage to Singapore's interests."



4. (U) The AIMS report rejects an immediate repeal of
Section 33, however; instead, it recommends repeal "in
phases." The proposed first steps are (1) to decriminalize
political films and (2) to ban only those political films
"made to intentionally mislead viewers." Whether a film is
"misleading," the report suggests, could be left up to an
advisory panel comprised of "citizens of high standing, who
are non-partisan, and whose views carry weight with the
public." The report also recommends retaining Section 35 of
the Act, leaving the Minister of Information, Communication
and the Arts free to ban films as "contrary to the public
interest." The GOS announced that it will respond in
mid-January. (The full AIMS report is available at
http://www.aims.org.sg.)

Banned Filmmaker: Decriminalization a Good Start


--------------------------

---



5. (C) Documentary filmmaker Martyn See Tong Ming told
PolOff he is disappointed that AIMS failed to urge outright
repeal of Sections 33 and 35, but that decriminalization of
political films would be a victory for freedom of political
expression in Singapore. See is the director of one film
banned under Section 33 ("Singapore Rebel," 2005, about
opposition politician Chee Soon Juan) and one banned under
Section 35 ("Zahari's 17 Years," 2006, about a former
detainee under Singapore's Internal Security Act). For
making "Singapore Rebel," See suffered confiscation of his
film equipment and several police interrogations; he avoided
prosecution by withdrawing the film from exhibition.
According to See, the government is merely acknowledging that
it cannot hope to police video content on the Internet. He

SINGAPORE 00001289 002 OF 002


nevertheless expects the government to drag its feet while
evaluating the AIMS report and deciding on a policy response.
Meanwhile, See said he is pondering whether to push the GOS
by resubmitting "Singapore Rebel" to the Board of Film
Censors and demanding certification of the film for
exhibition.

Visit Embassy Singapore's Classified website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/singapore/ind ex.cfm
HERBOLD