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Arts groups oppose proposed licensing scheme

More than 40 arts organisations have come together to object the proposed Arts Term Licensing Scheme, which they say is "reductive and damaging to the arts industry".

SINGAPORE: More than 40 arts organisations have come together to object the proposed Arts Term Licensing Scheme, which they say is "reductive and damaging to the arts industry".

They include arts groups across the theatre, dance, music and visual arts sectors, such as the Singapore Dance Theatre and theatre company Wild Rice.

Arts Engage, a network of arts practitioners in Singapore, had sought the views of these artists and arts groups on the proposed changes.

A townhall meeting was also held on May 10 and attended by over 40 arts practitioners.

The scheme is one of the changes proposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act to empower arts entertainment event organisers to classify their own performances.

Under it, licensees will be divided into two tiers.

Tier 1 may self-classify performances that fall within the "General" rating. These made up about 90 per cent of the 1,200 arts entertainment licences MDA issued last year.

Tier 2 licensees may self-classify performances up to the highest "Restricted 18" rating.

Event organisers can send representatives for training at MDA to become registered content assessors.

MDA will also offer advice if they need help when classifying performances.

But the arts groups feel such an arrangement would encourage self-censorship as assessors fear hefty fines and penalties, if a work is wrongly classified.

"What it means is that we are pitting against ourselves," said The Finger Players company director Chong Tze Chien. "We will have a staff member who is an assessor, who will be there, almost like an MDA agent, assessing our works.

"Because this assessor is directly liable in the event that he's found guilty of misclassification, he would have a penalty imposed on him or her.

"I think it's unfair to impose this on an individual, especially on a staff member and this staff member being responsible and accountable for the show, and he is personally accountable for these risks taken by artists.

"That would then create conflicts within the company, and I feel that within the company, it is unfair to have these divides."

The arts groups also point out that in co-regulation, authorities should engage artists and the public in an open and transparent process to determine classification boundaries.

But under the proposed system, they feel assessors will merely be executing the authority's classification guidelines.

They are thus calling for the authorities to delay the tabling of the Bill in Parliament, and for a more robust round of public and industry consultations.

These views were submitted to MDA (in a position paper), before the close of public consultation at 5pm on Friday.

In 2013, MDA had also engaged various stakeholders, including arts groups and the Arts Consultative Panel.

"The views were very diverse," said Mona Lim, a member of the Arts Consultative Panel. "The main view that most of us had was, how this scheme can actually be made relevant and attractive to the arts groups.

"To me, this is actually in the right direction, because it gives the arts groups leeway to do whatever they want to do, to develop their work.

"It's really about their own production and the processes that they are going through as well, but bearing in mind that whatever that they do, there is also the audience to consider."

Ms Chetra Sinnathamby, MDA's director of content and standards (Films, Video Games & Arts), said that feedback received during the public consultation process will be carefully reviewed and emphasised that the Term Licensing Scheme is optional.

The objective is to empower industry players to classify performances and events that they stage, while being mindful of prevailing community standards and expectations.

Those who choose to participate in the scheme enjoy cost and time savings, while those who do not wish to do so can continue to submit their applications to MDA. 

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