[Investigative Journalism] 6 Political Videos & Singapore’s Censorship


*** Offbeat Perspectives has dug up on our history through online research of 6 of our prominent local political videos.

I have to first state that the research was solely done through online sources, especially non-mainstream ones since it was not easy to source for online mainstream sources (taking into account that the medium of online mainstream news was not common until the recent decade, and mainstream news sites rarely give comprehensive coverage on such issues until recently likewise).

As such, this post could be one-sided or lack the objectivity 🙂 But nevertheless, I hope all of you read it with a pinch of salt since all media and accounts in general are subjective to their own interests. ***


1(Taken from Str4t* Pvn)

Under Section 32(1) of the Films Act:

Minister may prohibit possession or distribution of any film

35.—(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act if the Minister is of the opinion that the possession or distribution of any film would be contrary to the public interest, he may, in his discretion, by order published in the Gazette prohibit the possession or distribution of that film by any person.

(2) Any person who has in his possession or who distributes any film the possession or distribution of which has been prohibited under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both, and the film shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Minister thinks fit.

 #1 A Vision Of Persistence (2002)

A 15-minute documentary about Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam. The film marks Mr JB Jeyaretnam’s 30th year in the local political arena, and his 20th year in Parliament.


What happened?

The film was withdrawn from a film festival here on fears it could have violated a law banning political films, with the makers having submitted written apologies, and withdrew it from being screened at the Singapore International Film Festival after they were told that they could be charged in court.

The film-makers, all lecturers at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said they had chanced upon a man selling books on a street and decided to make a documentary on him, unaware at first that he was an opposition figure.

It is assumed to be the first film considered political under the Films Act. One of the film-makers had resigned from the school, and the two others were not available for comment. The polytechnic told The Straits Times that the three lecturers from the department of film and media studies had not sought the school’s permission to make the film, and they had considered the matter closed.

Was it banned?  

It could have possibly been banned in 2002? If the makers had gone ahead with screening it at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Taken from an excerpt of an interview Sindie carried out with Martyn See (2010):

J: Were you the first person in Singapore to make political films?

M: No, I am not the first. The first people who made political films and were harassed by the police for it were Kai Sing, Mirabelle Ang and Christina Mok. They were all lecturers in Ngee Ann Polytechnic FSB in 2000. They made a film about J B Jeyeratnam and allegedly, the police came and they confiscated equipment and they warned them not to do this.

The news was buried for a year and at the end of 2001, their contracts were not renewed. Straits Times’ Tan Tarn How found out about it. So basically, he wrote about the incident. Until today, the 3 filmmakers have not spoken up about it. 9 years later, they are still traumatized. (pause) So ‘Singapore Rebel’ for me was an attempt to make everything transparent.

To get hold of this film: 

Try underground means?


 Documentary on Jeya withdrawn from film festival: report

Self-Censorship at Singapore’s Film Festival

 #2 Singapore Rebel (2005)

A 26-minute documentary on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, made by Martyn See. The documentary has been screened in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Sweden, US, and even the European Parliament.


Side Note: Martyn See is a Singaporean who had undergone 15 months of police investigations for making the film – Singapore Rebel. He has followed up with –  Zahari’s 17 Years, a documentary on an ex-political detainee and – Speakers Cornered, a chronology of brief scenes from a street corner standoff between pro-democracy activists and the police.

Banned in: 2005

What happened?

The censors declared it a party political film which was illegal, and it was pulled from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival line-up after the director was warned he could face two years in jail if the screening went ahead.

Media Development Authority’s (MDA) later lifted the ban in 2009, given the 26-minute video has already been available online and viewed more than 400,000 times by the time the ban was lifted. MDA explained the Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) viewed Singapore Rebel as a documentary film falling within statutory exclusions.

Therefore, it should not be regarded as a party political film. It would also set the stage for future political films others might want to make. MP for Hong Kah GRC Zaqy Mohamad noted: “Elaborating on the considerations in evaluating films would serve as a guide for future projects and people would be less worried about making such films.”


2010 interview with Martyn See


Ban on ‘Rebel’ lifted; film by Young PAP under review

5 Local Films Banned In Singapore That The Government Does Not Want You To See

 #3 Zahari’s 17 (2006)

 A 49-minute film by Martyn See showing an interview with former newspaper editor Said Zahari, sharing on his 17 years as a political detainee in Singapore.


Banned: In 2007

What happened?

The film was gazetted by the Minister as a prohibited film under Section 35 (1) of the Films Act as he viewed that its possession or distribution would be contrary to the public interest. It was deemed as giving a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1963, and is an attempt to exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.

The Government will not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past, to exploit the use of film to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the Government. The film could undermine public confidence in the Government.

Response after Martyn See’s appeal:

We have given your request due consideration. The prohibition stands as the film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and is an attempt to exculpate him from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.

The film was assessed in its entirety and every part of the film should be taken in the context of the entire film, which presents a distorted portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the ISA.

Research Links:

5 Local Films Banned In Singapore That The Government Does Not Want You To See 

Zahari’s 17 Years remains banned : MICA

Martyn See writes to Minister on Zahari’s 17 Years

“Zahari 17 Years” continues to be banned in S’pore – BFC 

#4 One Nation Under Lee (2008)  

A 45-minute documentary produced by activist and artist Seelan Palay. It is critical towards the former premier’s rise to power and subsequent crackdown on his opponents. The film also includes interviews with prominent figures and scenes of public protests taken in Singapore.


What happened?

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had screened the film to a private audience of about 70 people, who paid $20 each to attend the fundraising event-cum-private screening of the film on Saturday, May 17 2008. Officials from the MDA came to seize the DVD midway through the event, explaining that they were contravening the Films Act, which stipulates that any film intended for public exhibition must be submitted to the MDA for a licence. Failure to do so would incur a fine of $100 for each copy of the film in possession.

It was submitted to the authorities in May 2009 as a political film. In a hand-delivered letter, the Board of Film Censors (BFC) noted the film contains excerpts from the film – Zahari’s 17 Years, which has been gazetted as a banned film under Section 35 of the Films Act. As such, the BFC will not classify the film. The authorities suggested for an alternative version of the film be submitted; one that does not contain any scenes from Zahari’s 17 Years.

The legal status of the film:

– It is not classified or rated.

– It is not gazetted as a ban.

– However, any possession, exhibition or distribution of ONUL constitutes a criminal offence as it contains excerpts of Zahari’s 17 Years, a banned film.

Research Links:

Film on Lee Kuan Yew seized by MDA

Video : One Nation Under Lee

Censors refuse to classify One Nation Under Lee

*Updated information* 17 May 2016*

Quoted from – C.Y. Seng (2013) OB Markers. Singapore, Straits Time Press.


“In 2008, a Singaporean critic of the government produced a film, One Nation Under Lee, which could not be screened in public because it was not passed by the Board of Film Censors, but it could be viewed on YouTube. In the film, it was alleged that the government sent people in the newsroom to control us and cited Tjong Yik Min and Chua Lee Hoong as examples.

The filmmaker was wrong. I got them into SPH, and I was under no instructions to do so. In fact, never during my time was I ever asked by the government to hire anyone. I do not believe anyone the government sent to the newsroom would survive the scrutiny of the newsroom. He or she would find it hard to establish credibility, especially when writing about the opposition and the anti-establishment lobby, or even the PAP. The government was too sophisticated not to know that.”

#5 Dr Lim Hock Siew (2010) 

It shows a 22-minute video recording of a speech by former leftist leader and political prisoner Dr Lim Hock Siew (who held the second longest-serving record behind Dr Chia Thye Poh’s 23 years), who was detained during Operation Coldstore in 1963, and held for 19 years.


Banned: From 14 July 2010

What happened?

The film had been banned under Section 35(1) of the Films Act. Those who own or distribute a prohibited film can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to two years. It was deemed as “against the public interest” as it “gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Dr Lim’s arrests and detention under the Internal Security Act in 1963”.

The Singapore Government will not allow individuals who have posed a security threat to Singapore’s interests in the past, to use media platforms such as films to make baseless accusations against the authorities, give a false portrayal of their previous activities in order to exculpate their guilt, and undermine public confidence in the Government in the process.

Research Links:

Here we go again – Govt bans another Martyn See’s film

Film on ex-leftist leader Lim Hock Siew banned 

#6 To Singapore, with Love (2013)

A 70-minute documentary directed by Tan Pin Pin about the lives of nine Singaporeans who fled Singapore against the backdrop of a communist struggle from 1960s to 1980s. The film has been shown in multiple film festivals overseas, picked up several awards and screenings abroad, including in London in October 2014 and at the Freedom Film Festival in Johor Bahru in September 2014.


Banned: In 2014

What happened?

Even after Ms Tan had appealed to the Films Appeal Committee (FAC) in September, the MDA has decided to remain with the classification of the film as – Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR) – because the film “undermines national security. Also, 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”. (Read the full reason here – MDA has classified the film “To Singapore, With Love” as Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR)

The film team had collated international orders for the limited-edition DVD, with the order window closed on 31 July 2015. The DVD is licensed for home use only, and to screen it at festivals, other educational institutions or organisations would require a different license.

It is a region 0 DVD and can be played in all regions. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented, “The political exiles featured in a documentary that cannot be shown in public or distributed here should not be allowed the chance to air their own ‘self-serving’ accounts of the fight against communism.”

To watch this documentary:

Try underground means? (If you did not buy the limited-edition DVD)


5 Local Films Banned In Singapore That The Government Does Not Want You To See 

MDA decision to bar To Singapore, With Love upheld

Appeal to reclassify rating of To Singapore, With Love rejected

Exiles in ‘To Singapore, with Love’ shouldn’t get chance to air ‘self-serving’ accounts: PM

To Singapore, With Love DVD and streaming available outside Singapore



 I don’t think we will ever know what really happened, who is speaking the total truth, or who is exaggerating their accounts. Some parties involved have chosen to stay silent too. Nevertheless, I think we as Singaporeans, have the right to gain access to such alternative insights on our political history.

As adults, we will be sensible and logical enough to analyse, reflect, evaluate, and differentiate between what is true or false when we become aware of both sides of the story. So why is state control overriding individual freedom? – as seen from the government’s tight censorship over alternative political accounts of Singapore?

A last video for enjoyment 🙂


14 thoughts on “[Investigative Journalism] 6 Political Videos & Singapore’s Censorship

  1. Remarkable article. Could do without the sarcasm in the title, and also try not to use too many fonts, font sizes, and font colours in your article – it makes the piece look cheap, when in actuality it is brilliant in its depth of research and maturity of commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

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