45 arts groups oppose MDA licensing scheme

45 arts groups oppose MDA licensing scheme
A scene from the Singapore Repertory Theatre's The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare in the Park 2014.

SINGAPORE - Forty-five arts groups have backed a position paper by artists' network Arts Engage, strongly objecting to the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Arts Term Licensing Scheme.

Signatories of the 12-page paper, released yesterday, included industry heavyweights such as the Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Repertory Theatre, and traditional arts companies such as the Chinese Theatre Circle.

The scheme, which begins a pilot run in July, allows individuals and groups to self-classify performances with age-appropriate ratings.

The scheme is optional and companies which sign up must appoint their own content assessors to classify their works according to MDA guidelines.

The crux of the arts groups' objections is that appointing such individuals from within the company to do the work of the MDA conflicts with artistic integrity and amounts to self-censorship.

They expressed disappointment in the framing of a scheme meant to showcase the industry's partnership with the MDA on classification matters.

They also suggest the MDA delay its implementation and engage artists and the general public in a more robust round of consultations before it is rolled out.

Under the scheme, groups can apply for two types of licences. Tier 1 licences allow for the self-classification of General-rated performances, suitable for all ages.

However, unscripted performances, or those touching on race, religion or politics, will still have to be submitted to the MDA for licensing.

Tier 2 licences allow for the self-classification of all performances rated up to R18, restricted to those aged 18 and above, but unscripted and outdoor performances with an Advisory, Advisory 16 or R18 rating must be individually licensed by the MDA.

Rather than penalise arts groups for not classifying correctly, which MDA has the power to do, the paper by Arts Engage says that artists should have the right to open a dialogue with anyone who complains against the rating given to a performance.

It argues that the penalty framework signifies a lack of trust and reflects a double standard, as licensing officers in MDA are not liable to be penalised for misclassifications.

Far from arts groups being "empowered" by the scheme, "no other developed nation in the world requires the performing arts to be rated or classified in such a manner", the paper says.

In response, MDA emphasised that participation in the scheme is optional. Ms Chetra Sinnathamby, director of content and standards (films, video games & arts) said: "Those who choose to participate in the scheme enjoy cost and time savings while those do not wish to can continue to submit their individual applications to MDA."

One of the arts groups which backed the paper is the Singapore Lyric Opera. General manager Ng Siew Eng says: "The responsibility of classification, I feel, needs to be defined more clearly. Different people have different standards, so why should the person who submitted the classification be responsible personally?"


This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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