Pappy washing powder video is a political film

The Media Development Authority (MDA) on Monday (Aug 17) said it will not be taking action against the Opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) for releasing a political film, which contravenes the Films Act.

The SDP uploaded two videos as part of its online campaign for the coming General Election. One focused on the local education system, suggesting that the system is stressful and has affected students’ well-being.

The other video is a tongue-in-cheek commercial featuring a made-up washing detergent brand called “Pappy White“. It shows a woman putting clothes printed with words like “transparency” and “democracy” into a washing machine. MDA has classified the video as a political film.

However, the authority said it will not be taking action against the SDP, noting that this is the first such incident. MDA added that parties may not have been fully aware of what is contained in the Films Act.

The authority reminded parties and candidates that they need to ensure that their political films do not contravene the Films Act. MDA also said it will not hesitate to enforce the law should they continue to publish such films.

The Films Act bans the making, import, distribution or screening of “party political films”. However, some films which meet certain criteria can be exempted. These include factual documentaries and manifestos of political parties produced by or on behalf of a political party.

The first ever political film to be shown to public is likely to be 1959’s ‘newsreel’ about PAP electioneering. Opposition parties complained that this was biased towards only one party. Ironically, the same ruling party that came up with the ban decades later could themselves have been breaching the said regulations when they first started out.

SDP’s Pappy washing powder creation has an unlikely connection with Forrest Gump. In 1998, BG George Yeo, then head of the Ministry of Information and the Arts, passed an Amendment which disallowed the distribution and exhibition of ‘political films’. He was convinced that opposition parties had sufficient avenues to disseminate their views. Fellow ‘pappie’ Jacob (Yaacob?) Ibrahim was concerned about the ‘danger’ of digital technology creating false images, as depicted in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ when Tom Hanks’ titular hero was morphed into a scene with JFK.

Which means you can forget about recreating LKY’s CG clone for a future film after all those actors worthy enough to portray him have died.

Today, our dear George is lauded as PAP’s Internet ‘maverick’, and the Films Act has since been ‘clarified’ to exclude certain types of content from the ban. For example, a film that is a live recording of any event (performance, assembly etc) which does not depict the event, person or situation in a ‘DRAMATIC’ way. An classic example of how this apparent ‘relaxation’ of legislation took effect was the decision to unban Martyn See’s ‘Singapore Rebel’. From the video on Youtube, you see scenes of Chee Soon Juan mobbed to fever pitch by the police and bystanders rabble-rousing. Nope, not the least ‘dramatic’ at all. Another of See’s films, Speakers Cornered, also features CSJ, but was passed uncut with an NC-16 rating because the MDA decrees that you need ‘maturity to discern the intent and message of the film’. No such luck for Tan Pin Pin’s ‘To Singapore With Love’. All the maturity in the world can’t offer you a glimpse of the banned, allegedly manipulative documentary.

Even without ‘dramatic elements’ or ‘animation’, an unedited video of someone telling his life story would still fall afoul of the censors if it ‘undermines public confidence in the Government’, as what happened to another Martyn See work starring ‘ex-leftist’ Lim Hock Siew. Vague terms like ‘dramatic’ or ‘factual’ have no place in the Law when the Authority, or its ‘independent panels’, have the wherewithal to decide what is ‘non-partisan’ and what is ‘political’ regardless of what the Act says. Undermining public confidence in the PAP is exactly what the Pappy washing powder implies, though the MDA failed to point this out as a ‘political’ element for some reason.

We’re so used to Mediacorp ‘current affairs’ programmes featuring Cabinet ministers, such as 2005’s ‘Up Close’, that we forget that these too may potentially breach the Films Act. And there are so many other ‘films’ out there with hidden political ‘agendas’ that get off scot-free. Like a cringeworthy, totally non-partisan Young PAP recruitment video about ‘re-igniting a passion for servant leadership’, which was spared because it did not have ‘animation or dramatic elements’. Others that inevitably fall out of MDA’s radar, including those with song, dance and animation, include:

  1. A homemade tribute video on the PAP’s 60th annivesary, with a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tarantino Western. Pappy Unchained?

2. A Steven Lim monologue urging you to vote PAP. Which the PAP may decide to ban for an entirely different reason.

3. This Taiwanese animation on Chee Soon Juan getting jailed.

4. This multimedia presentation that climaxes with a PAP logo next to a thumbs up. With cool retro 8-bit music.

5. This ‘Friday parody of how wonderful Election Day is.

6. Mr Brown parody on our ‘One Party’ leadership.

Which goes to show how archaic our laws are when it comes to catching up with new media. MDA’s ticking off aside, the Pappy video remains online as we speak, and in the meantime, if you need some legal ‘political’ entertainment, there’s this: