IMDA responds to 'censorship' criticism

One of the affected shows, Undressing Room, involves the performer and an audience member undressing completely and then touching each other, said IMDA.
One of the affected shows, Undressing Room, involves the performer and an audience member undressing completely and then touching each other, said IMDA.PHOTO: TNS

Ratings denial to M1 festival shows is to 'strike balance' between artistic merits, social norms

Accused by critics of "moral policing" and "opaque, backroom censorship", the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) yesterday defended its decision to deny ratings to two shows in next January's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

Performance lecture Naked Ladies and interactive piece Undressing Room were said last week to exceed the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AECC). This means that both works would have to be changed and resubmitted for classification before being shown here.

IMDA's latest statement said: "Naked Ladies includes a scene where the performer inserts her finger into her vagina and then into her mouth. Undressing Room involves the performer and an audience-participant completely undressing and then touching each other. Disallowing these scenes can hardly be considered retrograde moral policing; it is an objective application of existing guidelines."

The annual M1 festival is noted for its boundary-pushing fringe performances. Its 13th edition will run from Jan 4 to 15 next year.

IMDA had said last Friday: "The performances had excessive nudity which included scenes of audience-participants stripping naked, and graphic depictions of exposed genitalia."

The annual M1 festival is noted for its boundary-pushing fringe performances. Its 13th edition will run from Jan 4 to 15 next year.

Artists' network Arts Engage on Wednesday issued an open letter on its website in response to IMDA's decision. The letter expressed support for the festival organisers. It questioned IMDA's grounds for censoring both works and the process used. It also asked whether IMDA representatives had seen the works. And it wanted to know what advice had been given by the Arts Consultative Panel, a 40-member panel of housewives, artists, educators and working professionals, which can make recommendations to IMDA on ratings for arts shows.

Arts Engage called nudity "a legitimate and time-honoured device of artistic expression". It said: "Where is the artist's voice in this decision process and how is nudity in these works 'excessive'?"

It called the ratings denial "opaque, backroom censorship" and an "unmerited and retrograde step which runs counter to the move towards a reasonable, open and fair regimen of arts regulation in Singapore".

IMDA's response said it "has conducted itself transparently, contrary to Arts Engage's allegations. We have engaged the applicant every step of the way, and communicated our concerns clearly. It is therefore regrettable Arts Engage has accused IMDA of being opaque.

"If the applicant modifies the performances to meet the AECC guidelines, IMDA will license them accordingly".

"In discharging our regulatory responsibilities, IMDA aims to strike a balance between a performance's artistic merits, and prevailing social norms. Artistic expression cannot be an end in itself, without due consideration for social mores."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'IMDA responds to 'censorship' criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe