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August 24,2008

Singapore to relax ban on political films  next year
Singapore will ease a 10-year-old ban on films that promote a politician or political party next year, the Straits Times reported on Saturday, citing a government minister.

Lee Boon Yang's remarks followed an announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this week that the government may relax a ban on both political films and demonstrations to keep up with the spread of video and other free expression on the Internet.

The government may allow films that are factual documentaries or recordings of live events that were "held in accordance with the law", the newspaper quoted Lee Boon Yang, who is in charge of Information, Communications and Arts, as saying in an email.

"However, political commercials and films which are dramatised and made to distort issues or create a slanted impression should not be allowed," the minister said.

The Southeast Asian city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party for more than 40 years, bans the production and screening of all political films, imposing a maximum fine of S$100,000 ($73,000) or a two-year jail term on offenders.

The ban came into effect in 1998, two years after the opposition Singapore Democratic Party applied for a license to sell a videotape about the party.

Public gatherings of more than four people without permits are also banned, making it difficult for opposition politicians to reach out to voters.

Martyn See, a Singaporean film maker who had two films banned by authorities because of their political content, welcomed the news although he noted it was unclear to what extent the government will relax its controls.

"My reaction is to re-submit my two banned films for reappraisal to test whether the PM's pronouncements are for real."

"There's lots of skepticism and wait-and-see attitude judging from the blogs," he added.

The government has come under fire in the past year from Internet bloggers on issues from rising prices to the escape of a suspected Islamic militant.

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