Community Responses

Illustration courtesy of 
Otto Fong

Abel Teo

Parenting is never easy. Singapore can never remain an infant forever for the guardian to tell it what is to be done and what cannot be done 'for its own good'.

Examples of how parents who refuse to let go resulting in stunted intellectual development of the children are dime a dozen. Of course the arguments also go that Singapore is STILL NOT ready, and that the majority of Singaporeans are STILL NOT ready to make informed decisions. 

Well, there is never a time that clearly says 'YES THE TIME HAS COME' but any growing adult has to start somewhere, sometime. Could the time be now, I don't know? But we'll never signal our need to grow up and be a sentient, logical citizenry if we don't keep trying. 

The 'fact' that we are increasingly promulgating the need to stop censorship is already the alert to powers that be that this need is becoming increasing pressing. "

Michael Tan

Kudos to the ArtsEngage group! Must we always portray a virginal image? Censorship is always a blunt tool. Government should never overregulate and act as if they know what's best for all. It's time we let parents play their needful guiding role. Having a rating system with appropriate feedback mechanism to hear out discomfiting voices could be a step forward. "

Alfian Sa'at

Not being allowed to perform means censorship. Just because you allow all the other events and give them classification doesn't mean that no censorship occurred. I also don't like the insinuation that MDA was already being magnanimous by *only* censoring Jee Leong's poem, and the implicit signal that, by right, they should have repressed IndigNation altogether. 

Lastly, so what if the poem suggested that straight men experiment with 'gay unions'? Gay people have been told to try 'straight unions' their whole lives. In addition to the fact that this is clearly a case of unequal treatment, it's also absolutely absurd that one can be so susceptible--to change sexual orientation just because a poem suggested it!"

- in response to ‘MDA says it has addressed censorship issues raised by ArtsEngage’ 14 June 2010, Channel NewsAsia (Jeremy Koh), MDA claims it “actually approved all five ContraDiction events since 2005. MDA said all the events were classified R18 (Adult themes) due to their homosexual themes. Only one poem was disallowed in 2006. Entitled "Come on Straight Boy", MDA said the poem promoted homosexuality by challenging straight men to try out gay unions.”

Ong Soh Chin

I believe, in the long term, that a society that practises censorship is doomed to be a backward one, creatively and intellectually. However, while regulation is the right way forward, it must also be practised in tandem with open discussion and concerted educational efforts so that the public in general can learn to make informed choices about the art it experiences and to manage responsibly its ramifications. "

Sha Najak

I read the position paper published by Arts Engage where my attention was focused on the plays censored by MDA. I have not seen all the play but I did watch Trick or Threat, staged by Drama Box. I didn’t think the play should have been censored but then, I was not able to watch the original version before it was cut. Instead, I could witness the censored version held indoors at The Substation. 

Plays like Trick or Threat does not deserve censorship when it serves to impart consciousness to the public about anxieties we face every day. I wondered why it was censored and thought perhaps one of the reasons as cited by MDA is that it against the fundamental principles meaning disrupting race and religion that could cause public unrest. I did not find the play to be offensive or undermining my religion. I am born a Muslim and I know that the current climate on terrorism give rise to many who gaze fearfully at the millions of reports highlighting Islamic terrorists. For me, it’s a much needed play to talk about existing climates of fear that can help Muslim communities feel a sense of solidarity. 

The other fundamental principles speak about safeguarding national and public interest. What are these interests? I don’t think censoring artworks deemed to be a threat to national interest undermines Singaporean society because how else will we get to speak up and discourse? How many available channels are there for the community to rise and speak frankly? Are we contented with Speakers’ Corner? Frankly, the Speakers’ Corner does not create or nurture a healthy public discourse as the reach is limited. 

As a consumer, I would not have liked to have a play be censored. I would be left wondering what the issues were and could possibly spend time asking these questions to the organisers involved. I would be left wondering what is it that the state feels is dangerous to the extent of going all out to asking the artists to shut up. 

I am in favour of regulation because this allows for more doors rather than slamming it shut. The options can be flexible and negotiated. The spaces for expression should be negotiated if the state so believes in a vested interest in what artists do. Regulation means there is equal discourse and both parties come to an agreement. 

How else can a society mature when the colonial rules and regulations are still in place which in effect is stunting our growth? Don’t we realize that we’re still clinging onto traditional and conservative rules because we’re fearful of a progressive society which can actually be good for us? What is this fear of the unknown and why do we keep coming back to it? "

Amanda Heng

Censorship often leads to self-censorship. Regulation encourages individuals to take responsibility in public policy. Regulation also allows diversity in expression, and the possibility for conflicting ideas and differences to be debated in public. The process helps cultivate patience in the public to listen, and respect for differences. These are critical spirits and values besides tolerance to attain true understanding and harmony among the diverse groups of people in our complex society. 

Engagements in censorship debate and advocating for change are important art activities and learning processes. It helps us understand and develop our values in society. It is our responsibility as individuals to take active roles in this process of defining our values. It is also our responsibility to make the censorship debate our general knowledge in society, so that our younger generations are well informed of the issues, and are able to make constructive contributions to the public policy making processes. "

Martyn See

It is not just the excision of images, deletions of written and spoken words, withdrawal of funding or the choking of art spaces. Censorship in Singapore is much more than the mere bastardization of the art, or of its space.

To me, the artist himself becomes an alleged criminal.

Five years ago, I made a film about Dr Chee Soon Juan. The Media Development Authority (MDA) subsequently banned the film, and filed a police complaint against me. And thus began my battle with censorship - marked by trips to the Cantonment Police Complex, three-hour interrogation sessions, surrender of tapes and camera, the harassment of friends and associates. It went on for 15 months whereupon I stood before the officer who pronounced that I be issued a "stern warning" in lieu of prosecution. If convicted, I would have faced a maximum sentence of two years in prison, or a $100,000 fine.

All this for making a film.

Today, despite some recent cosmetic amendments, section 33 of Films Act, which criminalizes "party political films" containing "biased references to any political persons or matter", remains very much in force. Also, under the three-decade old Films Act, the import, production, possession and exhibition of any unauthorized film is a seizable offence. In 2008, officers from the Board of Film Censors (BFC) swooped down on a private premiere of a film entitled 'One Nation Under Lee' and seized its dvd copy. I believe the organisers of the screening are still under police investigation. To date, the BFC has refused to officially pass or ban that film. My other documentary, 'Zahari's 17 Years', remains banned. No filmmaker with a social or political conscience can ever thrive under this climate.

I was born, educated and have lived all my life in Singapore. I still reside in my three-room HDB flat; eat at the hawker centres; take the public transport; speak pretty good Singlish. All in all, I grew up under the PAP system. As such, I dare say I'm more Singaporean than Lee Kuan Yew could ever be. But unlike him, I do not think that the human right to freedom of expression is some Western liberal high-falutin' ideal unsuited to "Asian Societies" like Singapore. And unlike Lee Kuan Yew, I have absolute faith that Singaporeans are discerning and intelligent enough to be able to judge for themselves, and for their children, what is good for them.

Censorship retards intellectual development, cramps artistic growth, aborts conversation, spawns mistrust between civil society and government, causes social fissures, and engenders a climate of fear and rampant self-censorship. It has no place in a First-World society aiming to be a global arts hub.

Make censorship history. There's a better alternative. Ban nothing, cut nothing, criminalize no speech. Just regulate, and then we can all start talking to each other, and live freer lives."

Benny Lim

"Classification is yet another form of censorship. I do not agree that we can actually replace censorship with classification (since I do not see the big difference between the two). However, I do agree that classification is an improvement from 'cutting'."

Alan Seah

"The censorship of the media and the arts that our country wields so heavy-handedly doesn't just muzzle our artists, but also implies that Singaporeans are unable to distinguish between right and wrong. Closer to home, it assumes that we as a people are not able to recognize that gay men and women are ordinary human beings - capable of experiencing true love and happiness.

Yes, censorship in Singapore is particularly cruel towards the gay community. Positive portrayals and positive mention of our lives are banned. Yes folks, unless the gay character in the movie comes to a tragic or bitter end - it usually can't be shown. Meanwhile on Singapore TV, any mention of gay rights gets insidiously snipped from Academy Award speeches as if they were never uttered and gay characters in TV shows have their sexuality creepily erased. In the Arts, theatre companies like Wild Rice get their funding cut because they supposedly put on too many gay plays. 

Now many in our community may say it doesn't matter so much. After all, we can download or smuggle in any movie we want to see, catch the full speech on youtube and we all know Wild Rice will continue to soldier on.

But it's not right. And it's NOT ok. Especially when there are people working so hard to make a change." 

Catherine Lim

"The timing is crucial. If the government is unable to accept the compromise of regulation from the arts community and insists on its long-standing policy of censorship, then it will have missed the opportunity of any meaningful partnership with the community that will have become too weary or too skeptical to respond to any invitation.

Noorlinah Mohamed

Thank you to all who participated in making that clip. I loved it and am deeply moved by the simplicity of it all. Being so far away, my only access to what is going on in Singapore is through the internet. It has become the only way for me to feel close to home - skype, facebook, emails, youtube, e-news, blogs, e-groups - there is no way for me to say "I don't know anything". It is impossible. I know things much faster and on top of that, gain access to different views on the same topic. Such speed and diversity of thoughts (and I don't mean consensus) make me question further how long this 'paternalistic desire', this desire to 'leash' us can continue. This censorship is the leash to which we are bound, we are kept in check, 'bridled'. It is not about 'cutting us some slack' - it is about severing the leash altogether. If there is anything to cut at all, cut censorship. The time to censor is over. Passe.

Eileena Lee

Because of censorship, Singaporeans are fed ONLY negative images of LGBTs - the positive representations of LGBTs are ALWAYS snipped away. All you LGBTs out there! Sign this petition or forever hold your peace! This is your shot at changing things for future generations of LGBTs!

Kenneth Paul Tan

We all are, by now, familiar with the many persuasive arguments against straightforward censorship. And yet, many of these arguments continue to be dismissed by a too-easy criticism that they are anti-social, egoistic, elitist, abstract, or even dangerous. I am very impressed by and applaud the efforts of ArtsEngage not only to recommend a more transparent, de-personalized, and choice-driven mode of censorship as a suitable compromise at this time, but also to justify their recommendation with considerate, inclusive, nuanced, and practical reasons that have in no way lost sight of Singapore's best interests. The authorities would do well to give this paper very serious consideration and to engage with this community in a collective effort to allow us as Singaporeans to become a more aesthetically and morally intelligent people.

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