To Singapore, With Love, And Disappointment

Disappointment at the Singapore government and its censorship. I have not watched Tan Pin Pin’s latest film but I want to watch it if it comes out in Youtube. Despite accolades from film festivals which tells us what kind of audience the film appeals to, I had no interest in it since her films like Singapore Gaga are not engaging for me. That changed when the film was banned from public screening, but allowed for private screening. Sounds absurd but we cannot fullly fathom how bureaucrats think and that they still don’t realise that banning a film makes it even more appealing, like a forbidden fruit.

I remember Martyn See’s earlier films which were banned, like Singapore Rebel, which was about Dr Chee Soon Juan. The film was entertaining and biased in favour of SDP, which the film was upfront about. Any reasonable audience would see that message and take it with a pinch of salt, or a huge fist of salt if one supported the PAP, WP, NSP etc.

At least the censors did not ask for the film to be pulped, like certain children’s books in the national libraries. That earlier censorship story and changing access to the controversial books has lessons on this one. Add a MDA disclaimer to Tan Pin Pin’s film, or give it a R(A) rating to exclude non-mature viewers. A ban just shows that censorship is thriving still in Singapore.


Film banned: Real threat or just wounded pride
Mariam Mokhtar | September 12

A ban on a film is usually counter-productive. Borrowing a phrase from Heineken, a ban on a film has the effect of reaching the parts other films cannot reach. Singapore is a country which people around the world look up to. That is why the move to ban director, Tan Pin Pin’s award-winning film, “To Singapore, With Love”, proves that the government of Singapore is desperate, vindictive and afraid. Ironically, Singapore has ambition to be an Asian film and cultural hub.

Desperation makes people take desperate measures. In a world made smaller by Internet and social media, the banned film will now be viewed by more people than if the government had approved it for screening. The ban has inadvertently given the film a boost and generated much publicity, across the globe.

As the government of Singapore (and other autocratic nations) will discover, a ban makes people curious. Ordinary Singaporeans are like other human beings. They will want to know what it is that they have been stopped from seeing. They will become interested and want their curiosity sated.

When books are banned, a pdf version almost always pops up in cyberspace. When a film is banned, most people will attempt to find a copy of the film, to see it and judge for themselves, why the film failed to receive government approval.

The documentary “To Singapore, With Love” gives us a glimpse into the lives of nine Singaporeans, some of whom left the island in the early 1960s. One has since died, but many have not returned, simply because they would be refused entry to Singapore or like one political pundit said, “They can return…and be escorted straight to prison.”

The book “Escape from the Lion’s Paw”, sparked filmmaker Tan’s quest to find out more about the Singaporean dissidents, and to film their lives in exile.

The statement released by the Singapore Media Development Authority (MDA) said that the film was judged to “undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals”.

Although some of the older exiles in the film had joined the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in the 1950s and 1960s, the Singapore government appears to have overlooked the 1989 Hatyai Peace Agreement, between the Malaysian government and the CPM. These former communists, who are in their 70s and 80s, are living in Thailand and are not living rough in the jungles of the peninsula, attempting to overthrow any government.
So, it is highly likely that the ban is targeted at the second group of individuals, the former student activists who went into exile in the late 1970s. This is the group which the government of Singapore really fears.

These former student activists, who were rounded up in the mid-1970s, were highlighting humanitarian and social issues, workers’ rights and the government’s neglect of certain communities. These student activists escaped being incarcerated, under Singapore’s draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) by lying low, then escaping into exile. They were later stripped of their citizenship.

The failure to capture these activists has embarrassed the Singapore government. Forty years later, the government is still sore with them. That is why the men and women have been branded “communists” or “communist sympathisers”.

These former student activists have remained vocal, with their bold criticisms of the Singapore government. The authorities are afraid that their actions will embolden ordinary Singaporeans and students to stand up for their rights and demand their various freedoms. The authorities are afraid of criticism and an open culture of free speech. These former activists have neither reformed, nor mellowed with age. These voices from the past may be the catalyst for change.

Singaporeans are just as repressed as their Malaysian counterparts. Although both countries share a common history, and perhaps, a common destiny, it may be easier to restore a true democracy in Singapore, as Malaysia is hampered by the emotional baggage comprising race, religion and royalty.

Next week, “To Singapore, With Love”, is scheduled to be screened in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, during the Freedom Film Festival, and should attract scores of Singaporeans.
Perhaps, the Singaporean government will kick up a fuss, and Najib Tun Razak, who is also flexing his autocratic muscles, by clamping down on dissenters, with his sedition dragnet, will tell his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, “You help me, I help you” and forbid the screening in Johor Bahru, under some national security pretext.

Despite its development, its stature in the financial world, its first class education system and its success as an international port, deep down, the people who run the Singapore government are as insecure as the man in a sampan, who can see a storm approaching on the horizon.


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