Singapore's top media regulator has forbidden the public screening of the documentary ‘To Singapore, With Love’, claiming “the contents of the film undermine national security.” The 70-minute documentary by independent filmmaker Tan Pin Pin featured interviews with political exiles, most of whom have not returned to Singapore in 35 to 50 years.
To Singapore, With Love has been screened in other countries and has received positive reviews at several film festivals.
Some of the exiles featured in the film were activists, opposition leaders, and communists who challenged the leadership of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in the 1960s and 1970s. The PAP has continued to be in power since then, for about 50 years. According to PAP, Singapore became a prosperous city state by surviving and defeating a communist plot to overthrow the government in the 1960s.
Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) explained in a press release that it classified the film as “Not Allowed for All Ratings” because it distorted the truth about a period in Singapore history:
The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore. They were not forced to leave Singapore, nor are they being prevented from returning. The Government has made it clear that it would allow former CPM [Communist Party of Malaya] members to return to Singapore if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases. Criminal offences will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law.
Director Tan Pin Pin was disappointed with the decision of the government. She said the film was meant to stir conversations about Singapore’s rise as an independent nation:
I made this film because I myself wanted to better understand Singapore. I wanted to understand how we became who we are by addressing what was banished and unspoken for. Perhaps what remains could be the essence of us today. I was also hoping that the film would open up a national conversation to allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better too.
We need to be trusted to be able to find the answers to questions about ourselves, for ourselves.
Singapore’s art community protested the ban and signatures are being gathered to appeal the film rating given by the MDA:
We would like to suggest that rather than banning the documentary, authorities release their version of the events in question, so that viewers can make up their own minds.
…we would like to emphasize that censorship does nothing to promote a vibrant, informed society.
Tan Wah Piow, one of the exiles interviewed in the film, accused the government of preventing the people from learning an alternative version of history:
The plain answer is that the powers that be can tolerate only one narrative for the history of Singapore – the PAP story. The film sets out to present the lesser known aspect of the Singapore political fabric, and in the process, inadvertently presents an alternative version of history.
Activist writer Kirsten Han called the ban a blatant act of censorship:
…how can the reminiscing of exiled Singaporeans cause any credible threat to the country’s safety and stability?
What is happening here is just a blatant act of censorship, pure and simple.
After watching the film, historian Pingtjin Thum disagreed with the censors that the film poses a threat to national security:
Having seen this film last week, the one thing that all the interviewees have in common is a deep, abiding love for Singapore. This movie reinforces national security by demonstrating the deep loyalty and commitment of Singaporeans to Singapore, even those forced unjustly into exile.
Media Asia urged the government to be more tolerant instead of doing a “commie-style censorship”:
We would honour those who defended Singapore against communist overthrow by living up to their faith in the young nation’s capacity to deal with ideological differences through open competition – not by grasping at commie-style censorship.
Writing for The Independent, Ethan Guo said the ban would make the film even more popular among the public:
MDA has unintentionally diverted attention to a film that would otherwise be largely ignored by most Singaporeans. Now more people than ever will attempt to download and circulate it, yearning for this forbidden fruit of “hidden truth”.
This fiasco should never have happened; a silly move leading to more distrust between government and the artistic community.
Since Singapore will soon celebrate its 50 years as a free nation, the Singapore-based blogger who runs Everything Also Complain thinks it’s time for the government to promote reconciliation:
…maybe it’s the perfect opportunity for the government to exercise some graciousness and compassion by reconciling and engaging our political exiles and bringing them home, absolve them of alleged crimes, let them spend some time with their loved ones rather than whitewashing them off our history books as cowardly fugitives instead of the ‘pioneers’ that they deserve to be.
Some Singaporeans can still watch the film by going to Johor Baru in Malaysia where the film will be presented this week.