Benefits of Regulation

Greater freedom of expression
The arts community supports regulation without bureaucratic censorship. This means that except for materials which are prohibited by law and whose prohibition has been decided by a court of law, or where the producer of the work expressly requests it (in order to achieve a specific age rating, for instance) there need be no cuts to content. All works in the highest rated-categories can be uncut.

Greater consumer choice
The aim of regulation is to enable members of the public to make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to view a work, or to allow their children to view it. 

Part of the bigger picture
Because censorship entails the arbitrary exercise of power, it is exceptionalist: it brooks no debate and invites no consensus. Regulation is ordinary. It takes its place in a larger system of procedures and standards, and its legitimacy rests on the quality of its outcomes. Its objectives are clear, as are its limitations. As such, it invites the active engagement of stakeholders, and establishes a clear expectation of the responsibilities they, themselves, should take on.

Increased professionalism
Repeated encounters with the censors suggests to us that a culture of second-guessing and buck-passing prevails. A transparent and open regulatory system should enable decision-makers at all levels to have confidence and pride in their judgments. This will have a knock-on effect on relations with and attitudes of other stakeholders.

Depoliticisation of the process
The civil service implements government policy, which is determined by the democratically elected government of the day. However, it discharges this duty in the larger service of the state. In Singapore, ‘ruling party’, ‘government’, and ‘state’ are often conflated. However, what may be in the interests of one is not always in the interests of all. Even a robust regulatory framework formulated by the state may not be able to stop party-political interference; but it should enable stakeholders to identify it as such when it happens. 

A level playing field
At present, local artists are disadvantaged when it comes to competing with less tightly-controlled international content and products. This is fundamentally at odds with the government’s own stated aims of developing the creative industries, and is prejudicial to local forms of expression.

The right to offend and be offended
Several high profile cases of offensive speech have recently been addressed through legal avenues or by the security services. Such measures are not the hallmark of a healthy or robust society, nor do they demonstrably contribute the fostering of one. This is, of course, a contentious issue. However, we maintain that it is not the business of government to protect individuals from offence a priori. 

Morality, not moralism
All regulatory guidelines express the moral norms of a society – including the norm that entails the continued questioning of such norms. However, it is not the job of regulators to moralise. Disinterested decision-making helps guard against that. 

Better censorship
The arts community does not, as is sometimes misunderstood (or wilfully mischaracterized), advocate a “free for all”, with no limits on the freedom of expression. The laws of the land must be upheld. However, if censorship can be definitively separated from regulation, then both processes will gain a measure of credibility where now both are compromised.

A new benchmark
Informal conversations with employees from other branches of government indicate that MICA agencies may be behind the curve regarding internal communications and stakeholder relations. Certainly, censorship is a ‘hot’ topic. All the more reason, then, to grasp the bull by the horns and develop a regulatory framework that establishes new standards of transparency and accountability – best practices that other branches of government should aspire to reproduce. 

A new start?
When it comes to state support for the arts, Singapore’s artists are only too happy to give credit where it is due. However, many who have been subject to the censorship process harbour a degree of resentment at the high-handedness of state representatives, and frustration at the arbitrariness of the resulting decisions. The introduction of a properly disinterested regulatory framework, based on principles the majority of artists – along with other stakeholders – can agree on, will provide an excellent opportunity to clear the air, and build professional relationships afresh.

   ... read on - Recommendation