During yesterday’s Seminar on Internet Regulatory Reform, the subject of “party political” films was discussed and debated.
For readers who are not already aware, films which promote any political party in Singapore are banned. The relevant legislation is Section 33 of the Films Act. Section 35 of the Films Act is an omnibus law that gives the Minister absolute discretion to ban any film that, in his opinion, is “not in the public interest”.
The 13 bloggers who submitted the proposal on Internet freedom unanimously agreed that both these pieces of legislation should be repealed.
Cheong Yip Seng, chairman of the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, yesterday appeared to be in favour of keeping this law. Citing a recent conference he attended in Canada, he argued that since films tend to have a strong emotive appeal, they could easily be used to “distort the truth”. His words were covered well by The Sunday Times today.
I’m glad Tan Tarn How, a researcher from the Institute of Policy Studies, debunked this false dichotomy. He said that voting is an emotional exercise and there is nothing wrong with appealing to the emotions.
I also gave my views to the panel and the audience after Tan:
When we were drafting the section on the regulation of political content on the Internet, we were well aware that the removal of Sections 33 and 35 of the Films Act will benefit the ruling party more than the opposition. This is because the PAP, with its vast resources, will be able to put out much slicker and emotive videos than the opposition could.
In fact, even if the opposition were to put out a video that “distorts the truth”, with its easy access to the mass media, the PAP could easily debunk it and reveal the opposition’s lie.
But what the PAP perhaps fears, is if on Day 6 of the nine day election campaign period, an opposition party puts out a truthful video that uncovers a real misdeed on the part of the ruling party (eg, a top lawyer fixing judicial appointments or a Health Minister committing adultery in a hotel room), then the whole tide of the electorate could suddenly turn against the government and vote them out of power.
Perhaps this is why they want to continue to keep that law.
But come to think of it, this law at the end of the day might not even protect them.
As Cherian George pointed out, laws like this only serve to deter law-abiding citizens. It cannot stop someone from uploading such a video to YouTube.
So either way, they can’t protect themselves and cover up wrongdoing. Might as well open up and let a hundred films bloom.