SINGAPORE - From July onwards, some performing arts companies will no longer have to apply to the Media Development Authority (MDA) for a licence before staging each production.
A pilot run of the Arts Term Licensing Scheme will kick in, through which arts groups can give their own age-appropriate ratings for shows, in accordance with MDA's content guidelines.
However, the announcement was met with scepticism from some theatre practitioners, who felt there was no actual liberalisation but the status quo being upheld in a different form.
Members of the public are invited to give their views on the scheme, which is set to roll out fully early next year. It is part of the proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, which regulates all public entertainment, from fashion shows to poetry recitals.
Term licensing was one of the recommendations of the Censorship Review Committee in 2010, and it was officially announced in Parliament in March last year by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.
Participation by arts companies in the scheme is optional. They can apply for one of two types of licences, each lasting for a year, after which it will be subject to review.
Any company or individual can apply for a Tier 1 licence, but to apply for a Tier 2 licence, a company needs a good track record of compliance with MDA regulations, and to have produced at least five shows over the last three years.
Tier 1 licences allow for the classification of General-rated performances, suitable for all ages, which made up about 90 per cent of the 1,200 arts entertainment licences MDA issued last year. However, unscripted performances, or those touching on race, religion or politics, will still have to be submitted for event-based licensing.
Tier 2 licences allow for the classification of all performances up to R18, restricted to those aged 18 and above, but unscripted and outdoor performances with an Advisory, Advisory 16 or R18 rating will have to be individually licensed.
Companies which take part in the scheme will also need to appoint an MDA-registered content assessor, who will be trained in classifying each show according to the authority's guidelines. It will be releasing a new arts entertainment classification code, which will take effect on June 2.
However, "content standards have not changed", according to Ms Chetra Sinnathamby, the authority's director of content and standards for film, video games and arts. She described the new code as "merely clarifying the existing standard to help the arts groups self-classify their content". The previous code "was worded a lot more broadly, so there may be a concern about different interpretations".
Theatre practitioners reacted with caution, noting that there are restrictions on the term licence even for Tier 2 companies, which they felt reflected a lack of trust in them on the part of the authorities and society.
Artistic director of Nine Years Theatre Nelson Chia said in order for artists to benefit from the scheme, they have to be involved in the creation of classification guidelines. He said: "If we're just applying the guidelines to our work, then that's just the artist sharing the task of the MDA."
At least one company, Theatre Practice, will not be taking part in the scheme. Its artistic director Kuo Jian Hong described the self-classification as "not assessing based on our own intelligence or our own beliefs, but rather, we're executing MDA's guidelines, like agents".
This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.
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