Straits Times: MPs express reservations over scope, ambiguous wording

BY AARON LOW

CHANGES made to the Films Act did not go far enough, according to Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim.

Ms Lim, chairman of the opposition Worker’s Party, called the changes a “giant step backwards”, while Mr Siew voted against the changes as he believed they represented “a bad law”.

Yesterday, Parliament amended the law to lift a blanket ban on films deemed to be “party political” by allowing some of them through, as long as they fulfilled specified criteria.

When proposing the changes, Senior Minister of State (Information, Communications and the Arts) Lui Tuck Yew said the changes were a step forward.

“They will widen the space for political discourse and engagement, particularly through the medium of film and videos,” said Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui.

Six MPs spoke on the issue and expressed several reservations. But it was Mr Siew who launched an attack on the Bill.

Instead of opening up more space, Mr Siew said the amendments on party political films actually narrow the space for such films.

He cited a provision in the old Films Act which allowed political films that were made for the purpose of news reporting.

With the amendments, the exception applied only to licensed broadcasters, whereas previously, it could apply to anyone, he said.

He also said that the ban on recording of events that are unlawful may lead to “a nation of innocent criminals”.

Bystanders watching a procession may whip out their mobile phones to record videos of the event without knowing whether it was legal or not, said Mr Siew.

“It is a bad law, it would not fix the problems that need to be fixed, and I cannot in good conscience support such a piece of legislation,” he said.

Ms Lim echoed similar sentiments adding: “Any unrelated bystander caught filming a protest could be prosecuted. To me, this does not make sense.”

She called for the repeal of the law as there were other pieces of legislation, such as defamation laws and the Sedition Act, that regulated political films as well.

Other MPs, such as Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC) and Nominated MP Thio Li-ann took issue with ambiguous wording of the law.

They questioned what several terms used in the amended version of the Films Act meant and wanted a clearer definition of the terms used.

For instance, Dr Thio said that the definition of “party political films” in the law was problematic as it included the term “partisan”.

“Can a party political film be unbiased? Does not a film-maker have a message to convey, which is driven by his or her opinions and values?” she asked.

Addressing their concerns, RADM Lui said the reason for the way the law was worded is that the Government cannot be overly prescriptive of what can or cannot be allowed.

“But beyond being descriptive, we must also describe the intent of the Bill, what we hope that it would do and what kind of guidance this will give to the people who eventually have to exercise judgment on whether a film is a party political film.”

He also rejected suggestions by Mr Zaqy and Mr Siew that Section 35 of the Films Act be amended.

Section 35 of the Films Act empowers the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts to ban a film deemed to be contrary to the public interest.

RADM Lui said that Section 35 was not meant to be a backdoor way for banning films that might have been passed by the new amendments.

It would be used only to ban films that present a threat to national security or is against the public interest, and not political ones, he said.

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Posted in 2009 03. Comments Off on Straits Times: MPs express reservations over scope, ambiguous wording
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