23 June 2006

Party Political Films

ST June 23, 2006
When it comes to political films, there's nothing to fear but fear itself
By Ken Kwek

'VIDEO is to be feared.'

This ominous pronouncement was made by research fellow Tan Tarn How at a recent forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.

He was responding to a participant's question on how the increasing ubiquity of video images on the Internet could affect politics in Singapore and what the Government might do to control this avenue of political expression and discussion among the masses.

Mr Tan's point was that if a picture speaks a thousand words, then a moving image has the power to sway a thousand minds. By extension, a political video - manipulated by clever editing and released at a critical juncture, say during elections - has the potential to influence a thousand voters.

'Yes, video is to be feared. That's why we have the Films Act,' he said, referring to the Government's ban on 'party political films', or work that 'contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter, including a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore'.

Mr Tan cited Singapore Rebel, a banned documentary about Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Chee Soon Juan, as a case in point.

Made by local film-maker Martyn See last year, the gritty 26-minute film chronicles Dr Chee's arrest in 2002 for trying to hold an illegal rally outside the Istana. More significantly, it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children.

'A lot of people have told me that, after watching the film, they have a different impression of Dr Chee,' said Mr Tan, explaining that Singaporeans who relied solely on the mainstream media for news would see only the SDP chief's altercations with People's Action Party (PAP) politicians, not his more personal, human side.

Might the film's portrayal of a more personable Dr Chee with his family - cut against striking images of a dozen or so police officers deployed to apprehend him outside the Istana - lead to a significant clutch of sympathy votes for his party's candidates during elections?

Perhaps not.

But I reckon that may well be one element the Government is concerned about, and the reason why it has hitherto not taken any chances. The Films Act ensures that videos like Singapore Rebel will remain largely unseen by the population at large.

Or will it?
The rest of the article goes on to argue that while the Singapore government can ban political video clips etc, the actual enforcement of these laws is very difficult since the banned materials can be circulated around the Internet. The writer also says that the government should educate, not shield, the public about political films.

What strikes me, however, is this part of the article, about the Singapore Rebel movie:
More significantly, it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children.

'A lot of people have told me that, after watching the film, they have a different impression of Dr Chee,' said Mr Tan, explaining that Singaporeans who relied solely on the mainstream media for news would see only the SDP chief's altercations with People's Action Party (PAP) politicians, not his more personal, human side.
. Heheh. Well, foolish me. Here I was, stupidly thinking that the terrible danger of party political films is that Opposition candidates might use them to spread sensational lies and seditious deceit and inflammatory falsehoods about our beloved Singapore government and thereby incite Singaporeans into forming furious, protesting mobs in public places.

Instead, it transpires that the most "frightening" part of the Singapore Rebel movie, according to Tan Tarn How, is that:
"... it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children."
Well, well. That doesn't exactly sound like a major threat to our national security, does it? I mean, seriously lah. Even Saddam Hussein or Lee Kuan Yew would have a "softer side" when interacting with their loved ones. Why should a film about Chee Soon Juan be regarded as dangerous because it shows a softer side to Chee Soon Juan?

Tell you what lah, PAP, in the next General Elections, why don't you just ban TCS from showing any images of politicians kissing babies or shaking hands with the public. Such images of their "softer side" must be "dangerous".


Technorati: ; ; .

Backgrounders: Singapore Rebel investigation.


Anonymous said...

"The Government's next step should be to deal with that which makes political films, including Singapore Rebel, so 'terrifying': the fact that they are, as products of selective editing and audiovisual design, inherently manipulative.

To achieve this, the public must be educated about - not shielded from - the processes of manipulation. They must understand how screen language operates to coax the viewer towards an intellectual position or emotional response."

Tee hee hee. So perhaps we can also be educated about the mainstream media's processes of manipulation?

The most ridiculous thing it seems to me is this: why do they spend so much time harping on the opposition? If they're doing such a great job they have nothing to fear.

Why, if they're doing such a great job, we'd see heaps of fan made videos of how fantastic they are during the next elections!

(Unless they're made by specially employed guerilla marketers to spread undercover messages virally! Eep!)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

By the way, Alvin, I found Steve Pavlina's blog through yours - indeed a fascinating read.

Anonymous said...

God forbid the first world Government has insecurity issues!

Abao said...

Banning of video will do them no good. It will only lead to more people wanting to know more about the alternatives.

Btw, TCS is now called MediaCorp. Or MediaCock. :P

Anonymous said...

I love Steve Pavlina's blog :)

Anonymous said...

Mediacock is into making films and shows. That's why those footages of politicians kissing babies and shaking hands are their forte ... it's all play-acting!

It's the truth they can't handle.

Anonymous said...

ANYTHING that can shift voter's sentiments towards the opposition parties is considered dangerous by our "We-know-what's-best-for-you-so-you
-mean-WE" government.

Anonymous said...

Mediacorpse and SPH are already making party-political films and articles day in day out for the past 40 years. Editing images to suit PAP's agenda; writing, paraphrasing and omitting facts to appease their political masters. Mr Tan, do tell us something we don't know.

Kevin said...

I think that while the government can prevent screening of the film through broadcast TV and movie theaters, as well as through it's sale via VHS, VCD, DVD (not considering pirated sources which in itself can be disruptive), videos are nowadays easier to disseminate through personally-controlled media.

I'm referring to video sharing services like YouTube and Google Video having a disruptive effect over viewership. Adding to that, there's also the spread of videos through the cell phone SMS/MMS which is even more ubiquitous in Singapore (Tammy proved that).

It doesn't take a "scholarly researcher" to explain the pervasiveness of video and the virtues of censorship... that's been in the political doctrines of every communist country for centuries. For a "world-class" nation, we're really taking a big step backwards. Much like how the govt has engaged us in the blogosphere *thumbs down*, the government has done itself a great disservice by bringing more attention to banned films than they realized.

I'd say just let it pass and respect the intellect of the population. Show us the evils and engaged in healthy dialogue about it, rather than to treat us like kids and decide for us like we don't know how to "use our brain".

Anonymous said...

I still think the old phrase is the best

" Let The Voters Decide "

I mean I am sure if Singaporeans can differentiate genuity of Hollywood movies, they can differentiate the genuity of flicks like "Singapore Rebel"

I propose more liberalisation and no control at all for making political films unless it is politcial porn movies...lol.......

How violent can political films get? As violent as Da Vinci Code?

Any laws that benefit the minority and not majority is no law but abuse.

I mean if FHM and Sex Shops are allowed, why not films on political content?

We even have political books now, what difference does it make?

Full Stop.

Anonymous said...

"Research fellow" Tan Tarn How's comments on how the "Singapore Rebel" video is to be feared because it runs counter to the image painted by the sycophant media, confirms suspicions that he is another Round Table type trying to get the attention of the MIW to solicit an invite to tea at the Istana. Ditto the IPS's survey of the May elections, drawing ammunition to justify the "managment" of the internet. The dark side hates the glare of truth, shining brightly to liberate the minds of the oppressed. What is really more fearful is the CNA series, to use Lee Kuan Yew's own words, "packaging" the new Ministers, Ng Eng Hen, Vivian Balakrishnan and Khaw Boon Wan, because it was pure bull, like Napolean singing praises of new oppressors at the Animal Farm. The "real" video was captured by the official cameras at the election rallies, those mounted on the special pedestal, but were we allowed to see the footage? That's why I brought my own video cam to the Hougang and Ang Mo Kio rallies to capture the "reality" for posterity.

Anonymous said...

talking about politicians holding and kissing babies to show a softer touch ... i remember the recent election has continous broadcast of lhl carrying a baby boy with white diaper. so the governing party is in fact capitalising on pr ... or is the mass media doing for them?

whatever the reasons that gave rise to the numerous legal restrictions and censorships, that was many years ago and circumstances have changed and its time for the government to re-evaluate its usefulness.

like r(a) shows, political movies should also 'liberalised'. but then this may not be in the interest of the governning party.

Anonymous said...

I read Mr Wang's blog entry twice, and realised that Tan Tarn How didn't use the word "frightening" or "scary" to describe Singapore Rebel.

That was actually Mr Wang's own words. What TTH was pointing out is the power of video in swaying opinions.

It is that power which is scary, not that fact that CSJ is seen as having a softer side.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Really? Here, read again.

"Video is to be FEARED," he said .... Mr Tan cited Singapore Rebel ... as a CASE IN POINT. ... film chronicles Dr Chee's arrest in 2002 .... MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, , it contains "SOFTER" IMAGES of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children.

Anonymous said...

I'd read that as video is to be feared, in its power to sway opinions.

In CSJ's case, the prevailing view is of a belligerent nutcase, so the video clip showing the tender moments with his children is powerful in changing people's minds about him.

I think that was the point TTH was trying to make, and not how the softer images of CSJ are "frightening".

I've seen the film, and the scene with the most impact is precisely the one with his family. In a few short minutes, it caused a definite shift in how I view CSJ. That is the power of video.

Anyway Mr Wang, I think most readers of your blog would interpret the article your way..

Mezzo said...

"I'd say just let it pass and respect the intellect of the population. Show us the evils and engaged in healthy dialogue about it, rather than to treat us like kids and decide for us like we don't know how to "use our brain". "

I don't think the issue is whether the governement thinks that the population is mature enough to handle manipulative media, the issue is that the government thinks that it's just a bad idea to do so on the grounds that the opposition might look good.

And while I'd like to believe in the intellect of the people, there are plenty of examples in other matured countries as to how the media can very easily manipulate people's opinions. To draw random examples, Ike Eisenhower's presidential elections, Cronkite coverage of Vietname war, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in the 2004 presidential elections.

That being said, I'd like to be able to move towards a society where such films will not be banned. I'm just not sure that the current government is the best entity equipped to handle this development due to conflict of political interests.

(gah. i feel so poncey talking about all this.)

C said...

haha.... what a apt picture at the end!

Singaporeans should ask themselves a couple of questions before blindly agreeing/accepting the PAP govt stance on party political films. what is the definition of party political films? Who are the people defining it? Why do they define it in such a way?

Honestly, if they think party political films should not be allowed then perhaps they should argue that pro-PAP ones should not be shown. Oh wait... they are part of the government so it's ok. Oh no... but then they are "discussing" their political views in the media which is in line with their party or the media is showing their softer side! oh oh... isnt that party political too?

In singapore politics... the line is often blurred and crossed by "they who cannot be named"

En and Hou said...

Interestingly, if this was published in the era of Usenet, Mr Wang would have 'lost' through the invokation of Godwin's Law! ;)


Anonymous said...

Why do I feel that Singaporeans believe that opinions being "swayed" is bad?

Why the negative connotation?

Because when opinions change, it means the current truth is being challenged? and rejected? The truth is no longer seen as valid.

That's the fear. That the Singaporeans begin to seek the real truth??? not that which is fabricated for us, like the Matrix.

If PAP ruled earlier, we would still be believing that the world is flat ... so that we will remain within our HDB heartlands for fear of falling off the country. And damn, so many of them won't quit to Australia!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha, Hou, there is one difference. I didn't use Hitler as a negative example - therefore Godwin's law wouldn't apply. In fact I used Hitler to illustrate that just about everyone has a softer side, and therefore there isn't anything inherently untrue or deceptive happening when Singapore Rebel shows Chee Soon Juan as having a softer side.

That is why I was struck by TTH saying that Singapore Rebel is a "case in point" when he mentions that "video is to be feared". What exactly in the movie is there to be feared? Does it spread untruths about our government policies to incite unrest? Does it reveal any sensitive, national secrets? Does it make false allegations against Chee's political opponents?

No, apparently not. The "scariest" part of the Singapore Rebel is that it shows that he has a "softer side" when interacting with family. Which, as I said, is surely very believable, and would be true for members of the entire human race in general.

Because of that - the film is to be banned?

What kind of society is this?

Anonymous said...

I guess TTH's fear is that after all the effort put in by the mainstream media to demonise Chee as some sort of raving lunatic, the public should realise what a sham it all is.

En and Hou said...

Mr Wang : Oh, my comment was just a punchline, just like the photo. After all, the Law's obsolete! ;)

On a serious note though, any leader would want to be seen as a 'family man', because it appeals to the people being as caring and "down to Earth". In fact, it is not difficult to see that anything that makes the oppsition appealing is often declared as "dangerous".

Anonymous said...

They're afraid after showing a softer side of Chee, people might be surprised that a lunatic like him actually has a wife and kids, and might want to find out more about him.. That wouldn't do cuz Opposing politicans aren't encouraged to breed.