Ban on party political films should stay: Chee Hong Tat

The making of party political films will continue to remain an offence under the Films Act, as they risk harming political discourse, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat said yesterday.

He made the point when replying to Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh during the debate on proposed changes to the Films Act.

Dr Goh had asked if legislation on such films should be amended, taking into account how Singapore's "social norms regarding political discussion and expression have evolved".

Mr Chee said whether this should be done rests ultimately on the question of whether it is better to debate political issues with "words and logic" or with "images and emotion". He concluded the provisions against such films should remain. "(These films) seek to sensationalise or distort serious issues to evoke emotional rather than logical debate based on facts."

Under Section 33 of the Films Act, the making, import, distribution or screening of a "party political film" is banned, but films which meet certain criteria are excluded from this prohibition. These include films by a licensed broadcaster that reports news, films which educate people on election procedures, live recordings and accurate documentaries.

Dr Goh had noted that there has been "greater interest in different interpretations of Singapore's history" in recent years, and called for historical events of the 1950s and 1960s to be opened up for "multiple but fair interpretations".

"The politics in the past should not be conflated with the politics of today," he said.

While Mr Chee acknowledged there may be differing accounts of the formative events of Singapore's nationhood, he said there is also a need for safeguards to "prevent distortion and misrepresentation of facts".

He cited two banned films about former political detainees which he believed Dr Goh may have had in mind when he spoke about Singapore's early years.

The films, both done by film-maker Martyn See, are Dr Lim Hock Siew and Zahari's 17 Years, which features former journalist Said Zahari.

They are prohibited because they "gave distorted and misleading portrayals" of the two men's detention under the Internal Security Act for communist activities, to exculpate their guilt. The duo were taken into detention in 1963.

It is important to take a firm stance against such portrayals, he added, as they have a bearing on others' actions in the future. Mr Chee also said he believes Singapore continues to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and protecting the interests of Singaporeans.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline Ban on party political films should stay: Chee Hong Tat. Subscribe