Problems of Censorship

Lack of clarity and transparency about rules and processes
Timelines, guidelines and other information are not always readily available; where they are, wording can be vague, and decision-making processes obscure. 

Inconsistencies in the treatment of local and foreign works, often to the detriment of local work

‘Censor first’ attitude 
On certain questions of content or form, the first impulse is to censor, with the individual merits of the case only given due consideration after the ‘alarm bells’ have started ringing.

Disproportionate response to criticism or complaints 
Letters of complaint to the press or government appear to trigger a disproportionate and over-cautious response. This indicates a lack of faith in the regulatory procedure, and an unwillingness publicly to defend decisions or the merits of specific works.

Inconsistency in inter-agency interactions
Besides the Media Development Authority (MDA), a number of other statutory boards and ministries are involved in censoring cultural products. However, this appears to happen on an ad hoc and rather obscure basis, leaving few avenues of appeal for censored artists, who may not be permitted to know the source of the prohibition against them or their work. 

Multi-level censorship
The government is extensively involved in the administration, funding, promotion, housing, hosting, curating, regulating and censoring of artworks. The scope for interference both direct and indirect in the creation and public presentation of a work is therefore wide. As with the point above, the results are inconsistent, with sometimes contradictory information being given out by different government agencies, and decisions by one being reversed by another without explanation.

Existing rules flouted 
It appears that the demands of one ministry or agency can override the judgments of another, even where the latter has operated in accordance with available guidelines.

Personalisation of the process
Censorship decisions seem to vary from individual to individual, demonstrating the need for more robust and transparent regulatory guidelines. Sometimes, a decision can stand or fall on personal contacts.

Culture of defensiveness, secrecy and intimidation
There seems to be a general perception in government that artists are a threat, who take pleasure in embarrassing it locally or internationally. The modus operandi for censoring individuals reflects this misperception. Communications take on a furtive quality, being conducted by phone or face-to-face meetings, rather than in writing; decisions are made – or at least communicated – at the last minute; additional demands are made of artists at the precise moment they are most focused on their work; compromise solutions entail the removal of government logos from publicity.

Lack of consumer advice
It is not easy for members of the public to find out why and how a given work has been censored. Informed consumer choices are therefore hard to make.

Impoverished public discourse
The level of public discussion of censorship in the media is clichéd, insubstantial, and ill-informed. We take this to be symptomatic of the constraining effects of censorship itself on the quality and scope of independent thought.

Lack of independent oversight
For a number of reasons, including the legacy of Emergency-era censorship and Singapore’s distinctive political culture, we could say that the government is institutionally predisposed to censor. All the more reason, then, for properly independent oversight of procedures, as well as the drafting of subsequent reviews.

Setting the wrong tone
On matters of censorship, many individuals and institutions take their cue from the government. For example, an ‘Advisory’ is never just that: it can have a damaging knock-on effect on independent funding sources and school bookings, without regard for the merits either of the work, or of the decision to award an advisory.