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MDA scraps self-classification scheme for the arts

The decision to scrap the proposed scheme follows objections from 45 arts groups. 

SINGAPORE: The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) said on Friday (Aug 22) it will not be proceeding with a new licensing scheme for arts entertainment organisers, following a public consultation exercise in May and numerous industry consultations.

The Arts Term Licensing Scheme was one of the changes proposed by MDA to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act to empower arts entertainment event organisers to classify their own performances.

Under the scheme, licensees were to 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.

But during the public consultation in May, 45 arts groups backed a position by artists' network Arts Engage, which objected to the scheme. The 45 included arts groups from the theatre, dance, music and visual arts sectors, such as Singapore Dance Theatre and theatre company Wild Rice. Among their concerns was that such a scheme would encourage self-censorship as assessors fear hefty fines and penalties if a work was wrongly classified.

In July, MDA conducted further discussions with Arts Engage. However, the network was still “not keen” on the scheme. MDA also noted that Arts Engage had expectations that the authority would not be able to meet. This included giving licensees autonomy in the application of arts classification guidelines and doing away with the "Not Allowed for All Ratings" (NAR) category.

In a closing note to the public consultation exercise posted on their website on Friday, MDA said it remains mindful that arts groups were the intended key beneficiaries of the scheme and it would not be meaningful to roll out the scheme if the majority of the arts groups were opposed to it.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS FROM ARTS COMMUNITY 

In a statement released on Friday, Arts Engage said it was “heartened” that MDA had acknowledged the concerns of the arts community over the proposed amendments. It also proposed the following recommendations:

  • Formally review the Arts Entertainment Classification code, in consultation with arts groups
  • Conduct a dedicated survey of arts audiences to assess expectations of ratings and advisories for arts events
  • Consider embarking on a pilot of the Arts Term Licensing Scheme without the weight of punitive measures, and involve arts groups in drawing up its implementation details
  • Review the role, function and membership of the Arts Appeal Committee, and establish greater clarity and transparency in its processes

The statement also reiterated that while the arts community accepts that “classification is currently a necessary part of the regulatory process”, it did not believe that the Self-Classification Scheme should be implemented “just for the sake of administrative convenience, but also seek to protect the creative process and improve the environment for art-making in Singapore”.

Arts Engage added that it sincerely hoped to continue working with the MDA to develop a framework “that will work for our rapidly maturing society”, and looked forward to more regular engagement with MDA and the Ministry of Communications and Information to foster better understanding and communication. 

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, former Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh said the arts groups appreciate that their voices were heard: "Even though there was no agreeable solution to some of the differences that arose from how this scheme would be implemented, the dialogue and the process of engagement was still a valuable one."

Even though the MDA is not proceeding with Term Licensing, Ms Koh felt it would still be worth undertaking a review of the arts entertainment classification guidelines to establish what arts audiences' expectations are of ratings and advisories.

"This is one of the main areas of concern that emerged from the consultations, and I think we should move forward in a way that does not impede on creativity and at the same time keep the classification guidelines broad enough so that the more conservative taste of one group of people does not impede on the choices (of those with a) bigger appetite for more challenging works," she said. 

Social service agency TOUCH Community Services, which gave its feedback to MDA during the public consultation exercise, also welcomed MDA's decision. It had been worried that under the proposed scheme, there would be inconsistencies when arts entertainment event organisers classify their shows, which may result in "proliferation of entertainment that is detrimental to society".

Said its Executive Director James Tan: "MDA has been doing this role for a long time and we feel that it is the right thing to do for them to carry on taking this neutral role in ensuring that the guidelines are kept."

OTHER PROPOSED AMENDMENTS

While MDA will not proceed with the Term Licensing Scheme, it will proceed with other proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act. They include streamlining the enforcement process by vesting MDA with investigation powers for arts and entertainment breaches. Currently, MDA has to report such violations to the police for investigation.

The proposed amendment would allow MDA to carry out its own investigations instead of subjecting arts and entertainment event organisers to police action, and provide flexibility for MDA to offer composition fines for breaches instead of court prosecution. MDA said it is working on the amendments and will table them in Parliament when ready.

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