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Ban on song – MDA’s censorship by stealth breeds distrust

MDA Board of Directors
MDA Board of Directors

MDA’s surreptitious ban on song disgraceful

It was first reported as a ban by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA).

Now, the MDA has clarified that it is more of a partial ban than an outright one.

It all started when regional news sites, including Gay Star News (GSN), reported on Friday that the Singapore authorities have banned a song by Taiwanese singer, Jolin Tsai.

The song in question, titled “We’re all different, yet the same”, is – according to GSN, “based on the true story of a lesbian couple who have been together for more than 30 years.”

“But when one was hospitalized due to old age and required emergency surgery, her partner was unable to give consent because she was not her legal spouse or family member.”

The music video has Tsai marrying a female character played by actress Ruby Lin, and the two shared a kiss in one scene.

GSN then reported:

“Singapore’s censorship board, the Media Development Authority, recently issued a document to all TV and radio stations banning the broadcast of the song, which it said promoted gay marriage and therefore contravened Singaporean law.”

As news of the ban started to go viral online, the local news outlets in Singapore picked up the story.

The broadsheet, The Straits Times, reported on Monday that there was no such ban.

Straits Times, Monday
Straits Times, Monday

The newspaper said:

“Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai’s music video for the song We’re All Different, Yet The Same featuring same-sex relationships is not banned here, contrary to media reports in the region.”

In what appears to be a brief remark to the local media, a MDA spokesman was reported as having said that “Ms Tsai’s song is allowed in Singapore with the requisite age rating and consumer advice.”

The Straits Times then quoted the unnamed spokesman as saying that the “MDA [had] advised the local broadcasters that they should not air the song and music video on channels that are freely accessed by younger viewers due to its mature content.”

This looked like a confused position – that while the song is not banned, it is not allowed to be broadcast.

On Tuesday, the Straits Times reported a clarification from the MDA.

The MDA had apparently contacted the local media after Monday’s report.

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“The Media Development Authority (MDA) made the clarification on Tuesday that the song is not allowed for broadcast on TV and radio, after issuing a statement on Monday to The Straits Times…” the newspaper said.

The Straits Times added:

An SPH Radio spokesman said that it received an e-mail from MDA informing that the song “performed by Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai contains lyrics on homosexuality which we consider to be in breach of the Radio Programme Code and therefore unsuitable for broadcast”.

Further, the newspaper said an MDA spokesman – who remains unnamed – said that “that the song is allowed in Singapore for audio retail with the requisite consumer advice.”

So, the song is in fact banned from being broadcast on TV and radio and a “requisite consumer advice” is required for audio retail of the song.

The MDA, notably, did not address criticisms of the opaque manner in which the ban was imposed – by way of a rather surreptitious “document” delivered to media outlets here – instead of doing so openly through an announcement.

A check with its website on Tuesday carries no such announcement.

Why would the MDA not simply post an announcement on its website so that everyone can refer to it, instead of the public having to depend on news reports which themselves are inaccurate, as it turns out?

Such undercover action by the authorities is, as activist Alex Au said, “censorship by stealth” which fosters no trust in how the authorities go about things.

In fact, it builds precisely the opposite – distrust and disdain for those at the MDA who make and impose such decisions in a most non-transparent manner.

The fact that it has had to “clarify” things with the media speaks of this.

“What sort of Sarah Palins reside in MDA?” Mr Au asked, referring to the conservative American politician. “What did they imagine they would achieve by issuing such an instruction? Did they think that people in media would quietly follow instructions and not have one or two of them so upset that they’d leak their secret instruction to Gaystarnews? If they never considered that possibility, then our Sarah Palins have no clue about the real world and no clue about behaviour.”

It is indeed disgraceful that the MDA would, as it were, silently ban a song without letting the public know about it until news of it leaks out.