LETTER SENT TO PERMANENT SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION AND THE ARTS, SINGAPORE, ON 21 APRIL 2007
Most policies in Singapore have a robust way of adapting and addressing the evolving needs and aspirations of individuals living or working in Singapore. When your fellow public servants visit the world over, they go out of their way to address how pragmatically and uniquely we have crafted our legislative framework.
Yet that same level of robustness, uniqueness and pragmatism has not been seen in our media policies for some years now. I am referring in particular to your team's approach in handling films, which appears to be dated and reflective on an old era.
We need to move beyond reflecting practices of an old Singapore. An old Singapore where to cut a garlic one would have used a hammer rather than a knife. Or where one had a habit of cornering people in a cul-de-sac and beating the living daylights out of them.
FILMS BAN NOT EFFECTIVE
In the last 3 years now, your team has banned at least three films made by Singaporeans and your team compels our film-makers to surrender all their copies of such films.
By the time your team acts, copies of these films have already been legally sold or screened overseas. And eventually buyers of these films, through anonymous postings and provoked by your team's act to ban such films, make the films freely available on the Net via innovations such as Google Video or Youtube.
How ironic it is that one only has to search the key word "Singapore" on these innovations and these banned films will come up together with interactive clips that your team has sanctioned.
As a result, these film-makers suffer huge losses both in expense and potential profits.
FILMS BAN DISRESPECTS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
In the past years, Singapore has under the auspices of its Ministry of Law gone out of its way to promote Singapore as a centre for intellectual property and as a place where individuals place a sacrosanct value on intellectual property. And I have great respect for our Ministry of Law and its efforts to promote Singapore law in our hinterlands and beyond.
Unfortunately, your team's efforts to confiscate and destroy intellectual property can only undermine these efforts.
This will also exarcebate the situation where film-makers and intellectual property innovators, especially local talents, choose another place over Singapore. There is at least one article in The Straits Times which touches on this situation today.
Your team must take steps to restore faith among others, with respect to how we view intellectual property. Even your National Internet Advisory Committee is in support of this view when they put forward in their annual report, "The NIAC believes that it is necessary for the regulatory framework to be reviewed regularly to ensure they keep pace with technology and market developments. But the NIAC also recommends that MDA and other regulators continue to adopt a light touch and pragmatic approach wherever possible, when reviewing and updating their regulatory policies for the Internet, so as not to unduly stifle the growth and development of the Internet and other new media services."
REVIEW FILMS ACT
I have shared in the past that a review of the Films Act is long overdue, and have suggested some strategies to do so:
a. It is better not to ban these films but to require them to include warnings or declarations.
b. Conditions can also be imposed on where and how party political films can be screened.
c. Tickets could be subject to a minimum price of $20 - half of which could be donated to the film commission and the National Arts Council.
COMPENSATE PRODUCERS OF BANNED FILMS
I now wish to make another suggestion. Your team, in the interest of promoting respect for intellectual property, should look into compensating local film-makers whose films are sacrificed at the altar of public interest or public confidence.
I think it would be foolish of me to request a policy where loss of profits to the film-maker are compensated but, at the very least, it is in Singapore's interest to compensate the film-maker for the expense and time he or she has incurred in making the film.
As much as it is in your team's interest to protect public confidence in the work of Singapore's ruling class, it is also in the public interest to encourage the work of these film-makers who are an important section of Singapore's knowledge-based flight of success.
Otherwise, Singapore will only be worse off by such policies of a dark age that your team appears inclined to pursue. And it will be no surprise to have adjectives such as draconian, barbaric and uncivilised pelted at Singapore.
Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?