PM’s National Day Rally
Political films, political material during election and outdoor demonstrations
These are the three main thrusts of his speech aimed at liberalising the political sphere here.
The second and third items are not anything new. He has hinted at these before and yesterday’s annoucements were but elaborations.
a) Political films to be allowed – but safeguards will remain. His exact words were
“Some things are obviously alright – factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events…. If you make a political commercial so that it’s purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression, I think those should still be off limits… Just as we deal with it for non-political films, we have censorship, we have classification standards. It depends on subjective judgment but we’ve worked out a workable system, a panel applies their minds, they make a judgment”. (Bolded for emphasis)
Clearly, that is where his OB markers are. “Factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events.” In other words, if you whip our your camera and tape something happening right in front of you and upload it to YouTube or produce a DVD, you’re safe. This is assuming you do not edit it or put “footage distorted to create a slanted impression.” This is obviously fraught with problems – what is distorted footage, or slanted impression. He is clearly referring to videos like the one which had Obama morphing into Osama and Mccain endorsing his right-wing pastor.
Obviously, someone has to make the call to judge what is permissible and what is not. So far, it has been civil servants. As Alex Au pointed out, most laws are left to lawyers to interpret. The Films Act gives civil servants the power to interpret; not the most objective legal system around.
This is where I think the PM is hinting at a slightly different system, or so I hope. He alluded to the Films Classification system. Correct me if I am wrong but civil servants currently sit on the censorship board. If a filmmaker or distributor is unhappy with the ratings, they can go to an appeals board, made up of private citizens. This panel abitrates on the film.
Is PM hinting that political films will likewise go through the same process? That what is judged political be left to a panel? Possibly. If so, it too is fraught with problems and does not escape the key argument raised by liberals – such laws are practically unenforceable. The latest viral video on Hitler and ERP is such a film. Clearly political and very funny and satirical. Who uploaded it? Nobody knows. Can we catch them? Probably not. But it sure made an impact and it was *gasp* an emotional one too. It made me laugh and expressed exactly how I feel sometimes at the ERP system.
b) Political rules during election to be eased
Podcasts/vodcasts – I suppose this will be added to the positive list. Nothing new. In fact, it is still the same. Instead of saying what cannot be allowed, it is still “we give you a short list of what can be allowed. The rest can’t.” This is actually a better way of controlling than vice-versa but in the wild wild west of the Web, it makes no sense. Podcasts – okay but what about social networking sites? Can they be used in elections? They too offer podcasts and videocasts. In this, does this mean that the medium of audio and film is allowed but not the platform? As PM himself pointed out, a cyber-year is 7 years in real life. Things move so fast that his rules now will seem outdated by next GE.
To be fair, government has always moved slower than society. And rightly so. But in this, it just doesn’t make sense.
c) Demonstrations at Hong Lim
I was most intrigued by this actually. On paper, it looks interesting. No police registration but NParks. But like his pronoucement a couple of years ago about allowing discussions indoor on anything but race and religion, this too need to be treated with some caution.
There will certainly be restrictions on who and how many can participate in the demonstrations. I think they know that from the past few years with SDP moving to “civil disobedience” they had to react. They cannot continue arresting people. Much like talking cock, this will certainly become a zoo. A few select individuals are allowed to exhibit resistance but in a controlled environment. “Being subject to public order conditions,” gives the government a great amount of room to play their cards. They probably wouldn’t object to harmless people like Ng E-Jay making a stand and complaining…but the moment the Chee gang steps in, the police will move in.
So what has changed?
In substance, nothing much. But, I refuse to be a cynic, much like others in cyberspace. I actually think PM does want to move forward. But he is being held back by a conservative Cabinet. These rules are in place to check SDP really. I would think that if say a normal dude goes onto demonstrate, they will certainly have no problems doing so. Is this progress. Yes. Undeniably. But is it enough. No. Unfortunately.
I await to see the details of his proposals