Filmmaker Martyn See got his National Day “present” two days early when he was let off with a “stern warning…in lieu of prosecution” for violating the Films Act in a documentary he made about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.
Although the film was rather critical of the government, it appeared to be mainly aimed at giving a more “human” face to Dr Chee. It was a stretch to judge it as a “party political film” as it was a far cry from the mud-slinging political advertisements seen on television during election campaigns in “First World democracies”.
This “stern warning” (which coincidentally was similar to what Workers’ Party candidate James Gomez received for “threatening” an Elections Department officer) had been long expected after what Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told Time magazine in December 2005 in response to a question about this case. In that interview, MM Lee had said, “Well, if you had asked me, I would have said, to hell with it. But the censor, the enforcer, he will continue until he is told the law has changed. And it will change.”
Soon after that, the Government said the law would be reviewed “at an appropriate time”. Although the Films Act definitely needs to be reviewed, it is quite obvious that the issue of a review would not have even been broached if not for MM Lee’s Time remarks.
In light recent this issue and the recent media crackdown on mr brown, I hope that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will address the issue of media freedom (or lack thereof) in his upcoming National Day Rally, but without repeating the tired old government platitudes that the tight restrictions on the media are needed to maintain racial harmony and that the press should not see itself as the Fourth Estate because it is un-elected.