No love from Singapore: It's not national security, but censorship

SingaporeScene
The film "To Singapore, with Love", directed by Singaporean director Tan Pin Pin has been banned in Singapore. The Media Development Authority said its contents undermined national security. (Photo credit: To Singapore, With Love official page)

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

They’d done it before, and they did it again: the Media Development Authority (MDA) on Wednesday banned a film, ensuring that it would not be able to be screened in Singapore. 

The reason for their decision, though, was pretty bizarre. Tan Pin Pin’s film, ‘To Singapore, With Love’, was banned because it “undermined national security”.

It is unclear how the MDA thinks a documentary could undermine national security. Sure, Tan’s film features Singaporean political exiles, people whose perspectives might not fit in with the “official” narrative of Singapore’s history. But how can the reminiscing of exiled Singaporeans cause any credible threat to the country’s safety and stability?

It can’t, which is why the “national security” line of reasoning should be seen as little more than an excuse. What is happening here is just a blatant act of censorship, pure and simple.

There are periods in Singapore’s history that are fraught with controversy. The government insists that those detained under Operation Coldstore or Operation Spectrum were dangerous plotters who would undermine the stability of a fledgling nation. This was the “truth” that was splashed in the newspapers and written in the history books. 

But alternative accounts have cast doubt upon this “truth”. Work done by historians like Dr Thum Pingtjin have shown us that there is more to Singapore’s history than the state would have us understand.

Commenting on the banning of ‘To Singapore, With Love’, Dr Thum – who has already seen the film – had this to say: “I am disappointed for several reasons but in particular two: The first is the government’s unwillingness to face up to the past despite the vast amounts of documentary evidence which has now been declassified, and their continued insistence on clinging to a false narrative of the past even though it has been so thoroughly debunked. It’s the equivalent of the South African government continuing to insist the Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, or the South Korean government continuing to insist that Kim Dae Jung was a terrorist.”

Much as one would disagree, the government is free to put up their version of events and even stick with it – something that they have already done in MDA’s press statement. The problem really kicks in when they refuse to let any other version of events exist, thus removing Singaporeans ability to consider a variety of views and make up their own minds.

We’ve seen plenty of nostalgia in the run up to the giant SG50. Much has been made about our decades-long journey as a country, and a lot of effort put into honouring the Pioneer Generation and preserving their stories. Tan Pin Pin is even one of seven Singaporean filmmakers who will be putting together a movie to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.

The banning of ‘To Singapore, With Love’, flies in the face of all these endeavours. It tells us that, despite how far we’ve come, the state plans to continue its tight grip on information and the media in a futile effort to control what Singaporeans consume.