MDA’s revisions to Public Entertainments and Meetings Act encourages self-censorship: Arts community

Media Development Authority (MDA) launched a public consultation paper on 12 May 2014 with the view of making amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA).

The objective of these amendments, according to MDA, is to “spur co-regulation by empowering arts entertainment event organisers to classify their own performance, such as plays, musicals and concerts, while being mindful of community standards and expectations”.

MDA also adds that with the new proposed scheme, “arts entertainment event organisers will not only stand to benefit from cost and time savings but also partake in co-regulating the arts sectors”.

Under the MDA’s current scheme, “arts entertainments event organisers have to apply for individual licences for each performance or event, and the classification for the content is undertaken by MDA.”

MDA’s press release explains that under the new Term Licensing Scheme, the scheme will provide a “licensee to stage multiple performances within the license period”. It is then broken down into two parts. Those under the first tier may self-classify their performances that fall within the “General” rating. There are around 90 percent of the 1200 arts entertainment licenses MDA issued last year that fall under this category.

For the second tier, “licensees may self-classify performances up to the highest ‘Restricted 18’ rating”.

From July 2014 onwards, arts companies participating in the scheme will be allowed to stage productions without licences for up to a year, after which the new scheme is subject to renewal. Those who do not wish to participate in the new scheme can still continue to submit individual applications to MDA.

Artists in Singapore are mostly against the scheme. A statement by T. Sasitharan, Director at Intercultural Theatre Institute and former Artistic Director at The Substation reads: “It is morally unconscionable because it forces the artist to self-censor. The limits of artistic expression in a society should be determined by the light of the artist’s reason and conscience, in dialogue with his own community. Not by prescriptive and arbitrary guidelines imposed by the state.”

He also said, “It forecloses discussion, debate or dialogue about the first principles by which the guidelines for artistic content are constituted. This is flagrant violation of free thought and expression.”

Other observers have also adopted a similar stance to Arts Engage, and have spoken out to reject the Bill. On the Arts Engage page, a page by a community of artists who has been working against censorship, Chee Meng said, “Instead of investing in ‘content assessors’, it would be more productive and meaningful if we could invest in nurturing more art critics, be it professionals or amateurs, who may then engage in more active discussion on the merits of our artistic output”.

Other local artists such as Alfian Sa’at, the resident Playwright at W!LD RICE noted and listed the various productions MDA has censored over the years, and expresses how he finds them “…arbitrary, puzzling, paternalistic, and absurd some of the decisions have been,” referring to the ratings and advisories MDA has applied to productions from W!LD RICE, The Necessary Stage, Teater Ekamatra, Function 8 and Agni Koothu.

Arts Engage is expected to release a statement in response to MDA’s new scheme before the 30 May feedback deadline for MDA’s public consultations regarding the scheme.