ST: Coming up: Review of censorship rules

22 May 2009
Straits Times

Coming up: Review of censorship rules
Move to keep pace with fast-changing media environment

By Clarissa Oon, Senior Political Correspondent

THE Government will appoint an independent committee soon to update policies on censorship of the media and the arts.

The review will result in citizens getting more choices without compromising racial harmony, social cohesion and family values, said the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) yesterday.

It announced the reconvening of the Censorship Review Committee (CRC) in its addendum to the President’s Address in Parliament on Monday.

Mica said the CRC will look into updating content regulations in broadcast media, films, videos, publications, audio materials, the arts and new media.

It also said industry players want the CRC to look into fine-tuning film and video classifications, as well as rules on the distribution of videos and entertainment and lifestyle publications.

In addition, observers think the CRC will have to reassess the current approach of having more stringent rules for certain types of media with an ostensibly wider audience. This is because the same content can now proliferate over multiple media platforms, thanks to digital technology.

The review is the third, with the first done in 1992. It was followed about 10 years later by a second review in 2003.

Mica explained that the current CRC is being formed ahead of the 10-year interval to help the ministry and Media Development Authority keep pace with the rapidly changing media environment and societal developments.

The CRC chairman and members will be announced soon. They are expected to start work in the third quarter of the year and complete the review by the middle of next year.

Mica also pledged yesterday to continue to invest in the arts despite the economic downturn.

Among other things, it will open up to deserving young artists and arts groups a scheme that offers subsidised housing for the arts. It will also continue to recognise individuals and companies who donate to the arts.

Media industry and arts community players welcomed the move to reconvene the CRC earlier than expected. Said Ms Audrey Wong, artistic co-director of The Substation arts centre: ‘It reflects how fast society is changing, with the level of Internet penetration and how quickly film and media content can spread.

‘It’s a good sign that Mica is not resting on its laurels and taking the changes quite seriously.’

She hoped the committee could look into the issue of transparency and consistency in the application of bans and ratings for film and theatre.

One grey area the CRC should define better is whether a film or play is seen to be ‘promoting a homosexual lifestyle’, which affects how it is rated.

Another issue she singled out is whether the regulations on violence in video games should be tightened, given how new games are constantly being released.

Over the years, the CRCs have sought to cautiously liberalise the arts and media landscape.

Among other things, they have given citizen advisory panels more say on censorship and introduced a system of age-appropriate film and video ratings.

The new CRC should continue with the principle of ‘giving people choice while protecting minors and more conservative Singaporeans’, said new media analyst and playwright Tan Tarn How, who helped draft a proposal by the arts community to the last CRC in 2003.

He urged the new committee to widen choice ‘by taking away the cuts and limiting content where appropriate’, through such means as classification and restricting television programmes that some may find offensive to late-night time belts.

The Internet, he noted, will be a major challenge for regulators because ‘the website will not know your age or may not care whether you are a minor’.

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