ABOUT 50 publications, including books, magazines and newspaper articles, have been reviewed in the past two years by a panel set up to advise the authorities on controversial works, with most of them disallowed in the end.
These include an Esquire magazine issue that had an interview with a pornography star and a book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that was deemed "insensitive to the Muslim community", said Mr Edward D'Silva, chairman of the 28-member Publications Consultative Panel.
The panel's work was in the spotlight last week when it was reported that it had advised the Media Development Authority (MDA) earlier this year to bar an Archie comic from sale here due to its depiction of a same-sex marriage.
The National Library Board has four copies of the comic in the adult section and told The Straits Times it has no plans to remove them. It said last week the guidelines applied only to booksellers. Mr D'Silva said the panel's reviews were due to public complaints or referrals from importers who were uncertain about whether the publications' content breached guidelines. Most of the reviewed publications were magazines. Newspaper articles made up a small portion, with books in the minority.
Mr D'Silva, who has been on the panel for nine years including three as its chairman, said depictions of homosexuality made up a small proportion of the cases, adding: "It is a recent issue."
When asked, an MDA spokesman said it tells importers to remove publications from distribution and to re-export them if they are found to breach the Undesirable Publications Act or the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications.
Mr D'Silva said that, for newspaper articles, the panel had on occasion met the papers' editors to explain the panel's concerns about the articles.
The Straits Times understands that more publications may have been disallowed as the MDA does not refer all cases to the panel, if the work is a clear breach of guidelines, for instance. A book titled The Destiny Of Islam In The Endtimes that "pitted Christianity against Islam" and a cookbook, Baked!, that "informed readers that (marijuana) consumption was normal and acceptable" were disallowed.
More than two million publications are imported into Singapore each year. "Most of the complaints MDA receives are about newspapers, followed to a smaller extent by magazines," said the spokesman. Not all complaints result in publications being removed, she said. When the MDA received a complaint on sexual references in a book by children's author Roald Dahl, it advised retailers to place the book in a section for young adults. "This was done and the parent was satisfied with the solution."
How publications are assessed
How does the Media Development Authority (MDA) regulate books, magazines and other publications?
The MDA says the publication industry is "largely self-regulated". Book retailers refer to guidelines on its website. It usually assesses a publication when it gets feedback from the public or retailers ask it for advice.
It checks the publication against the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA) and Content Guidelines for Imported Publications, both of which are available online. It also consults the 28-member Publications Consultative Panel. If the work breaches the UPA or guidelines, MDA tells the importer to remove it and re-export it.
What is in the UPA and content guidelines?
The UPA says whether a publication is objectionable is a matter for the "expert judgment" of people authorised by the Act, but they should consider, for example, how much the work exploits the nudity of people or children, and promotes or encourages criminal acts or terrorism.
The content guidelines state, among other things, that publications must not promote drug abuse, and works that "encourage, promote or glamorise sexually permissive and alternative lifestyles and deviant sexual practices" are generally not allowed. Alternative lifestyles include homosexuality and bisexuality, while deviant sexual practices include "sado-masochism, fetishism and incest fantasies".
Who is in the Publications Consultative Panel, and how does it do its work?
Its 28 members, appointed for two-year terms, now include former and current librarians, academics and members of the public. The MDA says the panel represents "a cross-section of Singapore society... that can provide views from different sectors of community in terms of race, religion, age and occupations". It meets four to five times a year and also works through an e-mail group. Decisions are made through votes and based on the simple majority.
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