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March 24, 2009

Singapore relaxes political film law

Singapore passed an amended law on Monday to ease an 11-year-old ban on films that promote a politician or political party, but the amendments also introduce restrictions on dramatised political videos, reported Reuters.

The relaxation of rules on political films was meant to keep up with the spread of video and other news content on the Internet, but these had to be "held in accordance with the law", Lui Tuck Yew, a junior minister at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, told parliament.

The amended Films Act allows films that are factual and objective, and do not dramatise or present a distorted picture of politics in Singapore, Lui said.

"Films with animation and dramatisation and distort what is real or factual will be disallowed, as the intent of the amendments is to ensure that these films do not undermine the seriousness of political debate," he said.

The Southeast Asian city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party for more than 40 years, had banned 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.

The amended bill won overwhelming support in a parliament that has been dominated by the PAP since Singapore's independence in 1965. Nominated member of parliament Siew Kum Hong, who opposed the bill, said the amendments did not go far enough as it would still allow the prosecution of people who film political rallies without realising whether the event was lawful or not.

"Singaporeans are today far more sophisticated and media savvy than before and should be trusted for the merit and demerit of films for themselves," he told parliament.

Martyn See, a Singaporean film-maker who had two films banned by authorities because of their political content, called the law "regressive". "It shows off a government that is incapable of trusting its own citizens to watch political films."

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