Soap is sinful

Lookin\' Good For Jesus Lip Balm Topshop in Singapore has been forced to withdraw (via) a range of cosmetics after complaints from local Roman Catholics.

Catholics objected to the marketing for Lookin Good for Jesus which they said was disrespectful, full of sexual innuendo and trivialised Christianity. Grace Ong, an offended accountant, was happy to explain to a local newspaper why she was offended: Why would anyone use religious figures to promote vanity products? Its very disrespectful and distasteful.

There are three Topshop outlets in Singapore. It doesnt appear to have occured to Ms Ong that she could have shopped somewhere else.

Sex and religion banned in Singapore

Two films that were to have been shown at the Singapore International Film Festival have run into difficulties after censors demanded cuts for explicit sexual content and religious symbols.

Princess, Anders Morgenthalers animated film in which a priest sets out to erase his dead sisters past as a porn star, was withdrawn after the censor demanded the festival cut a religiously offensive scene. According to Singapores Board of Film Censors: The scene has a porn star in a nuns habit, with a cross protruding from her behind. Film with content denigrating a religion or a religious symbol are not permitted.

Solos, a Singapore film that explores relationships among three individuals who are struggling to open up their feelings towards each other was censored because of explicit homosexual lovemaking scenes including scenes of oral sex and threesome sex, according to the censorship board said.

Loo Zihan, co-director of Solos, has not yet withdrawn the film and is appealing the censors decision. The sex scenes are not meant to titillate. Its an art film. We hope it wont be viewed as porn, he said.

When speech is against public interest

Singapores Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, which vets all films before release, has banned a documentary on the grounds that it is distorted and misleading and could undermine confidence in the government.

The film, Zaharis 17 Years, is a 49-minute interview with Said Zahari, who was arrested in 1963 on suspicion of plotting violent acts and detained without trial for 17 years. It was made in 2005 and received a PG rating in 2006. When it was not shown at the 2006 Singapore International Film Festival, as he expected, director, Martyn See, applied for an exhibition license to screen it publicly.

The Singaporean authorities have now decided that the film was an attempt to clear Said of his involvement in activities against Singapore and ordered See to surrender all copies of the film by Wednesday afternoon.

I dont know what changed. Maybe different people with different views watched it this time, See told The Associated Press. I based my questions to Said on his first book, which is sold in Singapore. So what is in the film is not something the government didnt know.

Said, contacted by telephone at his home in Malaysia, was shocked to hear of the ban. He said he had already accepted an invitation to come to Singapore next month to give a speech at the films screening by a university film institute.

This is very funny. I dont understand why they would ban it at all. What I said in the movie I have already said in my book, and much, much more, he told AP. That was 40 years ago. Is the government still afraid?

The banning of Zaharis 17 Years under the Film Act prohibits exhibition, possession and distribution of the film.

See was investigated by police last year concerning Singapore Rebel, a documentary he made about an opposition leader. That film was screened at film festivals in New Zealand and the United States, but not in Singapore where the director received a stern warning but could have faced prison time or a fine if convicted of knowingly producing and distributing a party political film.

Amnesty International criticized Singapore for that case against See, saying the city-state was stifling artistic freedom and preventing citizens from expressing dissenting views.

A trailer for the film can be found on both YouTube and the Internet Archive.

Not coming to a DVD near you

Anyone living in Singapore who missed R21 films like Saw III or Borat in the cinema isnt going to be finding these films at the local video store any time soon, according to Channel News Asia (via).

In an email interview with Today, the Media Development Authority (MDA) - which is responsible for film and video classification - revealed that it is taking a phased approach to video classification.

According to Cassandra Tay, the MDAs director of communications, one of the concerns was the issue of videos with explicit content being accessed by the young. The MDA is planning to consult all its stakeholders, including the public, before deciding what to do next.

In other words: Hold your horses.

Film classification was introduced in Singapore in 1991 and the arrival of video ratings in 2004 meant that titles up to M18 could be imported for sale and rental. However, two and a half years after implementation, it is still impossible for film buffs to obtain R21 films such as Kill Bill.

Well consider the possibility of allowing R21 titles in due course, said Tay but she declined to disclose a time frame by which this might take place. Until then, the status quo remains.

No public hair in Singapore

A book by Singaporean photographer, Leslie Kee has been banned (via) in the conservative city-state because of excessive nudity.

According to Information, Communications and the Arts Minister Lee Boon Yang, current guidelines do allow for nudity in artistic works including photography publications provided they are suitably depicted. However, Kees book, Superstars has been deemed beyond the pale because it featured excessive nudity with photographs showing full frontal nudity, with public hair and genitals clearly visible.

Self Censorship in Singapore

Reporters Without Borders (via) have condemned the Singapore government for putting pressure on several foreign publications to censor themselves.

“The authorities are looking for effective ways, including fear of prosecution and heavy fines, to intimidate these publications into censoring themselves,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “This is the latest threat against the foreign media, which are the only means of reporting independently on political and economic events in the country since the local press is controlled by the government.”

The information, communications and arts ministry gave the monthly Far Eastern Economic Review until 11 September to comply with section 23 of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. The magazine has been registered as a foreign publication since it criticised the government’s domestic policy in 1987 but had an exemption from some legal requirements which has now been cancelled. It must have a legal representative in the country by the ministry’s deadline and pay a deposit of 200,000 Singapore dollars (100,000 euros). For other foreign publications, the International Herald Tribune, Time magazine, the Financial Times and Newsweek, have been ordered to do the same when their licences come up for renewal.

This crackdown follows an interview in the Far Eastern Economic Review with opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who the magazine called a national “martyr” because of the many lawsuits against him.

The ministry said the press law “serves to reinforce the government’s consistent position that it is a privilege, and not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore.” Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 worldwide press freedom index.

Seditious zombies

A 21-year old blogger is being investigated in Singapore for allegedly flouting the Sedition Act by publishing pictures of Jesus on his blog.

Way back in January, the blogger - who uses the online moniker Char - posted the Zombie Jesus cartoon (left) by Jared von Hindeman on his blog. Then the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy exploded and someone took it upon themself to demand that Char remove the Jesus cartoon from his site.

Char ignored the request and, instead, posted more Jesus cartoons, which is when his self-appointed censor contacted the police.

In its statement yesterday, the police also advised the public that it is a serious offence for any person to distribute or reproduce any seditious publication which may cause feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore. Offenders can be jailed up to three years or fined a maximum of $5,000 or both.

Chars desktop and laptop computer were seized as evidence and he has been questioned. Three days later, he was asked to report to the Police Cantonment Complex where he was arrested and released on police bail, which was extended to four weeks to let him travel to the US.

The case is still under investigation.

(via MediaWatchWatch)

Singapore bans blogs

The Singapore government has been condemned for gagging political discussion on the web in the run up to the countrys parliamentary elections.

The government has extended censorship laws to ban podcasts and videocasts that carry political content and already strictly regulates websites and blogs, which must be registered with the government. The ban is enforced under a 2001 law that seeks to prevent overt advertising by political parties. The ban is a blow to the opposition Singapore Democratic Party which has used both podcasts and videocasts in an attempt to get round traditional media censorship laws. Reporters sans Frontieres said: Once again the Singapore authorities are showing their determination to prevent the holding of a genuinely democratic debate on the internet. No date has yet been announced for the election.

(via Index on Censorship)

Singapore Rebel faces political ban

Index on Censorship reports that independent documentary filmmaker, Martyn See, is facing questioning under Singapores stringent Films Act which bans party political polemical films and which carries a fine of up to $100,000 or two years in jail.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Assistant Superintendent of Police Chan Peng Khuang called See on 6 May to tell him that he and his film Singapore Rebel - a documentary about the civil disobedience campaign of opposition activist Dr Chee Soon Juan - were under investigation. See was forced to withdraw his film from the Singapore International Film Festival after the Board of Film Censors told festival director Philip Cheah on 11 March would not pass the Films Act rules. He will meet the police on 16 May.

If you want to see what the fuss is about, you can download the trailer here.