Despite its efforts to promote Singapore as a creative media content hub, a number of laws, including the banning of political films, has been a fly in the ointment of the government’s claims to creativity.

Yet moves appear afoot to amend the bill to ban political films, with Minister for Information Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang indicated he would table a bill to amend the Films Act early next year. (See AFP article for details)

PM Lee’s National Day Rally speech quoted in the Straits Times, however, indicates that the law will be softened rather than removed.

…we’ve got to allow political videos but with some safeguards.

According to the Straits Times article, factual footage, documentaries and recordings of live events will now be allowed, but ‘political commercials…of purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression’, should still be off-limits, thought the PM.

The PM’s speech also pointed to the ‘very restrictive’ laws that banned political blogging posting of political material on the internet during the 2006 election. Does this mean that opponents will be able to use the internet to distribute campaign material for the 2011 election as the Straits Times indicates?

Yet days after the rally speech, opposition leaders have been charged over a 2006 illegal procession or assembly without permit. See the International Herald Tribune article for details.

And PM Lee Hsien Loong himself to these ‘safeguards’ by taking a libel suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review further. The Singapore PM now charges that the 2006 article in the magazine implied he was corrupt, rather than that he simply condoned corruption by his father, former PM Lee Kuan Yew. The FEER story that motivated the Lees to file suit against the magazine and its author was entitled “Singapore’s Martyr: Chee Soon Juan”, and had quoted opposition politician Chee attacking the Lees. See Reuters article for more details.

The National Rally Day announcements by the Prime Minister and the tabling of the bill to amend the ban on political films is good news for the liberalising of society in Singapore, which will further encourage creativity and open critical analysis. But the big question is whether the Singapore government can deliver on these promises and not let the de jure amendments be undermined by de facto details and ‘safeguards’. To date, the actions by the courts and the PM himself have done little to ressure Singaporeans that change is on its way.