'Disparity in views over co-regulation must narrow first'

'Disparity in views over co-regulation must narrow first'

SINGAPORE - A scheme to let arts groups classify their own performances will be shelved until the disparity in views on co-regulation between them and the Government narrows, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

He also turned down a suggestion from Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) to do a trial test of the scheme with some key arts groups in the meantime to see how it could work.

Mr Zaqy, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, made the proposal during the debate on the Public Entertainments and Meetings (Amendment) Bill, which was later passed by Parliament.

But Dr Yaacob said: "We have no plans to pursue co-regulation of the arts entertainment for the foreseeable future until the fundamental differences of views over co-regulation between MDA and the arts groups can be narrowed.

"It will not be meaningful, I think, to implement any pilot test for the scheme."

The controversial Arts Term Licensing Scheme was dropped from the new legislation after it was rejected by arts groups in Singapore.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) had proposed it as a step towards "co-regulation".

But artists' network Arts Engage released a paper, signed by 45 arts groups, that outlined their objections.

Referring to the objections, Mr Zaqy said they feared they would be "functioning as extensions of MDA, resulting in self-censorship".

They highlighted the "subjective and arbitrary nature of classifying arts content", he added, noting that they had cited instances when the same content was rated differently by arts groups and the MDA.

A public consultation exercise held by the MDA had, however, produced differing views, said Dr Yaacob.

While arts groups asked if lighter penalties could be levied for breaches of the classification code, some members of the public called for stricter measures to deter arts groups planning to intentionally mis-classify their performances.

MDA, therefore, has to find some middle ground.

"As regulator of arts entertainment, MDA has to weigh the interests and concerns of both arts groups and the general public," said Dr Yaacob.

"The arts community cannot expect MDA to accommodate only their concerns because the Arts Entertainment Classification Code is one in which all Singaporeans, you and me, have an interest."

The arts groups also want the "Not Allowed for All Ratings" (NAR) classification to be scrapped, he added.

"Underpinning the classification code are our community norms and values and the underlying importance of maintaining social, racial and religious harmony," he said.

"An NAR category is necessary as an upper limit as there will be instances when a performance is deemed inappropriate for staging."

For instance, the desecration of religious icons just because the performer deems it an artistic act will not be condoned, he added.

Still, the Government will continue working towards co-regulation which, Dr Yaacob said, is already practised in the broadcast sector, where content producers ensure they are offering age-appropriate content.

"In the case of the arts groups, however, the extensive and in-depth engagements MDA has had with the arts groups have shown that co-regulation is not such a straightforward matter," he said.


This article was first published on October 9, 2014.
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