(Unpublished - July 14, 2010)
I refer to the recent ban on film-maker Martyn See's film "Dr Lim Hock Siew".
The film presents political detainee Dr Lim Hock Siew giving his experience and views with respect to the 19 years and 8 months for which he was detained by the Internal Security Department.
The grounds for the film's ban is that it is against "public interest".
Moreover, Dr Lim is suggested to have made a false portrayal in his speech, which could allegedly undermine public confidence in the government.
I would like to find out, as in interested member of the public, as to what extent is his speech untrue.
At the same time, I find the total ban of the film as an overreaction and that it could be kept for academic purposes.
Historical accounts are based on oral narratives, apart from publications and state releases. It is important that we do not silence individuals who were part of Singapore history.
What we have for history are merely textbooks and existing publications approved for release by the government. Most of these accounts involve the villainisation of communism and the conflation of socialism in communism, which are forgivable in the context of political ideology and foreign relations in the Cold War era.
Moreover, the ban is premised on the belief that our society is not mature enough to discern the content.
I recall the government reasoning that policies will only change if Singaporeans have a change in mindset or are "ready".
Such a move on the state suppression and selective valorisation of information, in this case deeming the film "against public interest", only prevents Singaporeans from questioning and contributing to the democratic process.
Because of moves like this, we will obviously never "be ready" as a society.
Whatever people interpret is out of the government's hands, because people think differently.
We cannot be a democratic country if people are silenced, or deprived of information.
I hope the allegedly accusations of the film will be made available for public discussion.
Surely we are mature enough to have a dialogue with the government and the mainstream press to discuss the accounts of ex-political detainees.
Ho Chi Sam
Afterthoughts: I believe in the freedom of information and the freedom to information. A relatively developed country like Singapore should have some morsel of maturity to deal with its history and discuss issues deemed contentious by the state.
No information, no discussion. If there are selected pieces of information made available to people, discussion will be oriented towards this calibration.
It is utterly ridiculous that democracies in the Cold War era had to conflate socialism into the much villainised communism. It's a matter of foreign affairs too, given Singapore's alliance (or rather soft-soaping allegiance to the United States) in an economic bipolar world.
It is all the more perplexing that the PAP government today has socialist approaches to policy, given its past persecution of the socialists, whom they have rechristened "communists" and made easy targets for internal security purging. History is written as such because certain voices and accounts have been silenced and invalidated, threatened with defamation and sedition.
I give credit to the PAP government today for their seemingly socialist approaches to education, health, tiered taxation, (to a small yet contentious extent) public housing and to some extent retirement welfare. These are coming from a government that ironically regurgitates the same old story of meritocracy, and privatises all welfare and charitable organisations. This is a government that flip-flops with various conflicting political and economic discourses in order to legitimise the decisions they make. They are mixing socialism into their own brand of authoritarian democracy legitimised by their economic leadership. However, the resultant balance is still in need of tweaking and that is why we probably need the input of non-PAP voices to contribute to the political discourse.
With regards to the film, I believe it should have never been banned. Even if the content of the film is untrue, or that the subject speaking is an unreliable and non-credible source, it deserves public attention and public discussion. If the government has nothing to fear, it need not censor alleged threats to its legitimacy. Any way, it is not as if someone is insulting race or religion here, so there should be no threat of mass violence a la 1960s.
On a concluding note, I do not see Martyn See as a film-maker, but a journalist-cum-historian. Unlike most Singaporean "reporters", he actively seeks news, and like a historian, he shares with us an "alternative" account that challenges our pre-conceptions of our daily realities. I'm less concerned with his sources and the content of his "film", than I am with his efforts to share with Singaporeans other "truths" that would enlighten us about our past.