THE ARTS COMMUNITY PROPOSAL
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is a position paper by the undersigned of arts community for submission
to the Censorship Review Committee. It lays out our position on censorship
and regulation, and recommends that the Committee adopts the regulatory
model and principles described here.The arts community is a 'client'
of the censorship rules, just like the Government and the public. Indeed,
it is the reason those rules exist: No artists, no art, no need for
arts censorship. That's why we believe it is important to hear our views
as practitioners. The arts community is also taking the Government at
its word. Minister David Lim has said the Committee should examine first
principles and examine new models of censorship and regulation. We are
taking on the call to provide possible solutions by proposing a model
and the principles that will serve the community well in the long term.
We believe that the existing censorship rules fall far short of that
which Singapore deserves. They are against the fundamental principles
of a modern democracy in a nation-state with an educated, cosmopolitan
population. And if the current review brings about merely a quantitative
advance in the relaxation of censorship, it would not go far enough.
What is needed is a system that works for the long haul. We believe
that the dream of making Singapore into a Renaissance City can only
come from an environment where censorship is replaced with regulation
by other means because to create art - and people - requires a free
environment to flourish. The current censorship rules, or any set of
rules which is overly restrictive, would undermine the Renaissance City
goal. We believe that the new rules are also consistent with our 'Asian
values' and is not much different from developed cities and countries
like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.
In any case, the
Internet has made many of the rules irrelevant because it allows almost
unrestricted access to all materials. The present rules only serves
to drive demand of these materials out of the open.
We that the following principles have to observed in any regulatory
1) Diversity and tolerance
The rules should acknowledge the diversity of today's Singapore and
in fact allow for the greatest possible expression of that diversity.
This requires a climate of 'reciprocal tolerance', which means (a) an
acceptance of other people's rights to express and receive certain ideas
and actions; and (b) accepting that other people have the right not
to be exposed against their will to one's expression of ideas and actions.
Tolerance of expression of ideas or actions does not mean that one agrees
with approve these ideas, but that one acknowledges that other people
have the right to their own space to make these expression possible.
Regulation by rating, zoning and belting
Diversity requires tolerance. Tolerance enables choice, choice to and
choice not to. That exercise of choice can be best provided for by a
system that is based on some kind of limited restriction of access and
exposure to allegedly 'harmful' or 'dangerous' material rather than
a system that relies on crude blanket bans over such material. Thus
regulation in the sense of bans - which we define as "censorship"
- should be eliminated except in extremely rare cases where freedom
of expression and choice poses a clear and present danger - as opposed
to an existing but slim possibility - to public order or national security.
Instead, what should be put in place is a regulatory system - which
bans almost nothing but allows everything, and does so by regulating
distribution and access. The regulatory model should be based on a system
of rating, zoning and belting. Rating (like the present films rating
system) classifies works (films, books, plays, magazines, etc) according
to their content and imposes age limits based on it. Under the ratings
system, no work is banned outright. Zoning classifies geographical areas
where works of certain ratings are allowed or disallowed. We believe
that zoned areas where content which do not satisfy the rating for general
audience can be restricted to city areas such as Waterloo Street, Kerbau
Road, Chinatown, North Bridge Road, River Valley Road. Belting classifies
time periods (on television or radio, say) or types of media (such as
newspapers or more restricted circulation papers) according to reach,
imposing stricter limits on periods and media with greater reach and
according to the ratings. The rating system should be consistent in
their application and should be clearly defined.The RZB system allows
for positive freedoms - freedom of expression and choice to take part
in or consume. It also allows for negative freedoms - freedom from by
imposing strict rules not only on the availability of works but even
more strict rules on advertising and publicity for these works.
Advertising and publicity
Advertising and other publicity materials often have wider reach then
the works themselves. Also, works which are displayed with other works
- such as books, magazines, CDs and videos, are their own advertising
and publicity, and should thus be regulated by general rules on advertising
and publicity. Strict regulation should be put in place for the way
in which works are advertised or displayed and where they are advertised
or displayed. The principle of 'brown bagging' should be applied: Works
or advertising about works which fail the general rating test should
be brown bagged: restricted to certain zones of the city, restricted
to certain areas within a bookshop, video shop or whatever retail and
other spaces which the public would go to to purchase general-rated
material; be appropriate wrapped so that material on the cover would
be be inadvertently seen. This protects those who do not wish to come
across such material.
Avenues of recourse and complaint
That exercise of freedom of expression and choice causes unhappiness,
either with the artist, the organisational entities which make the art
possible, the consumers, or the authorities, is not a sufficient indication
of such danger. Indeed it is seldom is. However, in the very rare cases
that people or organisations threaten or intend to express their unhappiness
by disrupting the peace, then the relevant laws should be brought to
bear against them, rather than proscribing those who they accuse of
such and such. In recent years, public discourse about race, religion
and a whole host of 'sensitive' issues has shown that Singaporeans approach
discussion in even the most heated issues in a rational way, or at least,
in a non-violent manner. We believe that this is because of the maturity
of the audience brought about by education and economic and social progress.
The regulations rules should take that as a starting point, and stop
assuming that Singaporeans are unable to handle conflict through debate
and argument. Disagreements will not always disappear with discussion.
It will existalways exist because it is a consequence of diversity.
Indeed debate may exacerbate differences, but debate is the only way
to mediate these differences. Burying difference but not allowing expression
of ideas - unless they intentionally incite violence and hatred between
communities - is not the alternative for a mature population. The party
aggrieved by an artist or arts group should not seek to get the authorities
to ban the work, but has at its disposal the right or reply through
the mass media or its own publications or activities.
Engagement with the audience
The censorship system must take into account that some art forms (a)
do not have set texts and unfold in reaction to the audience, and (b)
bring down traditional barriers between artist/work and audience, indeed
sometimes redefines the meaning of the 'audience'. Instances of such
works are performance art, forum theatre and street or site-specific
work which require interaction with the audience, including a public
that may sometimes be unaware that they are part of the 'audience'.
What this usually means is that there is some amount of unpredictability
in the work. But this is not sufficient reason to proscribe the work.
The test again is whether there is a clear and present danger of a threat
to public order or national security.
Pre- versus post-censorship
We believe that the system of regulation should be based on post-censorship
rather than pre-censorship, except for content with very wide reach.
For example film and television. This means doing away with a licensing
system for plays, visual arts events, concerts and other performances.
Instead of having to ask for permission to put out these works. Artists
need only inform the authorities of their intention to do so.
Minors must be protected. The way to protect them should not be by putting
a blanket ban on materials not suitable for their eyes but to restrict
their access to these material by imposing age limits, as in the current
practice for alcohol or plays and movies. The rating, zoning and belting
model ensures the protection of minors with proper policing. Stricter
regulations should be placed on rating for violence, in particular for
film and television.
(II) SPECIFIC FORMS, CONTENT AND OTHER ISSUES
Plays should not be banned, and there should be no alterations to the
script or performance as long as they do not contravene the laws of
the land. Non-general rated plays can only be performed in the designated
zoned areas in the city. They should be rated by the groups according
to the common set of rating system. If there are complaints, the Government
may wish to impose a rating on the play, but it must lay out its case
according to the rating system. Plays which are rated not for general
public viewing can only be staged in the zone areas. The proscriptions
on Forum Theatre should be lifted. Interactive works should be allowed
as long as they satisfy general public safety and public order concerns
based on the clear and present danger rule.
The same rules for plays should apply.
Lift bans on books with sexual or political content. Require booksellers
to restrict the sales to adults and display of these books.
Lift bans on magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Playboy etc.
5) Television and cable
Free-to-air stations should be belted and programmes rated. Cable television
should be regulated by allowing for access codes to imposed.
6) Visual arts
No painting should be banned. Shows may be rated. The current proscription
on performance art should be lifted.
Lift bans on all songs unless they are obviously racist, such as Nazi
material. Impose ratings on songs or albums with drug, sexual or other
adult content. Restrict sales of such material only to adults. Allow
sales of these material only in shops in the zone areas in the city.
Brown bag or zone these material in a shop.
Impose ratings on video, VCDs and DVDs. Restrict sales of non-general-rated
material to adults. Shops with these materials can only operate within
the city zone, similar to the zones for other media such as plays and
film. Within a shop apply brown-bagging and zoning rules.
Lift the bans on political material, including on movies and documentary
(as defined under the Films Act). Allow materials currently banned because
of 'diplomatic sensitivities' in foreign relations. Call for the Films
Act to be amended.
10) Race and religion
Allow currently-banned materials on race and religion, applying the
clear and present danger rule. Apply a rating to works if necessary.
11) Homosexuality and other sexual content
Allow currently-banned material. Impose a rating if necessary.
12) Artistic merit
Remove rating by artistic merit. All materials should be allowed under
the rating system, whether there is perceived artistic merit or not.
1) Talaq. There
should not have been a ban. The group which took offence should have
found ways to exercise their right of reply by writing to the press
or other means.
2) Causeway (Arts Festival 2002). The NAC should not have asked lines
to be cut from the play.
3) Kinda Hot (by the company Spell #7) A performance designed as a
around Little India, taking small groups onto the street, talking to
them and leading them from one location to another. There was no clear
and present danger to public order, so the play should have been allowed.
4) Lanyu (movie). Banned for general theatrical release because the
main theme is homosexuality. Should be allowed under a rating.
5) Zoolander (Movie). Banned because it one of the characters is the
Malaysian Prime Minister. Should be allowed.
6) J B Jeyaretnam documentary (by Ngee Ann Poly staff). Banned under
the Films Act. Should be allowed after revising of Films Act.
7) Sex and the city. Allowed on access-restricted cable or on free-to-air
TV in a late-our time belt.