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Public views sought on self-classification scheme for arts groups

The authority has launched a public consultation to get more views on the proposed changes to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act.

SINGAPORE: Arts groups may soon be able to classify their own performances such as plays, musicals and concerts.

This is one of the changes to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) proposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to forge a co-regulatory partnership with the arts sector.

The authority has launched a public consultation to get more views on the proposed changes.

Before an audience views a play, musical, or concert, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes.

To ensure that the content is suitable for the target audience, organisers of arts entertainment events have to apply for a licence for each performance.

Classification of the content is then undertaken by MDA.

There are four classification categories. "General", which is suitable for all audiences including children, and "Advisory", "Advisory 16" or "Restricted 18" -- categories for an older audience.

The "Advisory" category covers performances with some mature content, such as occasional scenes of a sexual or violent nature, or coarse language, which may be disturbing to younger audiences aged 12 and below.

Performances in the "Advisory 16" category contain mature themes such as prostitution and torture. These are more suitable for audiences aged 16 and above.

Performances classified under "Restricted 18" contain adult themes, with more explicit content than those in the "Advisory" category, and only audiences aged 18 and above are allowed into the performance venue.

MDA has proposed that organisers classify the content of their events.

To do so, it hopes to amend the PEMA to introduce a new Term Licensing Scheme. Under it, licensees will be divided into two tiers.

Those in 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.

Licensees can stage multiple performances within the licence period.

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

Chetra Sinnathamby, MDA’s director of content and standards for for films, video games and arts, said: "Arts groups can in fact go ahead to put up their performance, once they have ascertained what would be the rating for their performance.

"All they need to do is to deposit the script, say, 20 days ahead of the performance. So it really shortens the time to performance for the groups.

“On top of it, with Term Licensing, it also means that there are no charges incurred for licensing. Today, arts groups pay between S$5 and S$10 per day for each of the performance licence that they apply at MDA.

"So moving forward, there will be no such charges. It really means time and cost savings for the groups."

MDA also addressed concerns that self-classification would lead to a relaxing of standards.

Ms Sinnathamby said: "It was a clarification, rather than a loosening or tightening of standards. So the standards have remained the same, but what it means is the arts groups now have greater certainty over how they can classify their content."

Events agency Senses Marketing Communications & Design welcomes the proposal.

Currently, when it organises events such as certain film screenings, celebrity appearances and performances, it has to apply for a licence.

Its project manager, Maria Shimizu, said: "It (the proposal) will allow us to plan for our events and projects more effectively. It will allow us a faster turnaround time, because we can classify our events, instead of having to wait for a decision from the authorities.

"We can also advise our clients and give them greater clarity on what is allowed and what is not permitted for their events."

However, some groups are wary of the scheme.

Kuo Jian Hong, The Theatre Practice’s artistic director, said: "All the responsibility is on our part. We have to execute it, we have to take responsibility of the outcome.

"But we don't really have the latitude to decide what is suitable, what is appropriate. And it is precisely the grey zone that is debatable and in question here.

“If I cannot make the decision, if I cannot have the independence, and be at the same time responsible for whatever fallout these decisions take me to, then I'd rather not be the assessor."

Those who do not wish to join the scheme can continue to submit individual applications to MDA.

Details on the proposed changes are available on the MDA website.

The public have till May 30 at 5pm to submit their feedback.

MDA is targeting to conduct a pilot with some arts groups in July before rolling out the scheme in January 2015.

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