Panel that advises authorities on controversial works reviewed 50 works in 2 years

Most of these controversial publications disallowed

About 50 publications, including books, magazines and newspaper articles, have been reviewed in the past two years by a panel set up to advise the authorities on controversial works, with most of them disallowed in the end.

These include an Esquire magazine issue that had an interview with a pornography star and a book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that was deemed "insensitive to the Muslim community", said Mr Edward D'Silva, chairman of the 28-member Publications Consultative Panel.

The panel's work was in the spotlight last week when it was reported that it had advised the Media Development Authority (MDA) earlier this year to bar an Archie comic from sale here due to its depiction of a same-sex marriage.

The National Library Board has four copies of the comic in the adult section and told The Straits Times it has no plans to remove them. It said last week the guidelines applied only to booksellers.

Mr D'Silva said the panel's reviews were due to public complaints or referrals from importers who were uncertain about whether the publications' content breached guidelines. Most of the reviewed publications were magazines. Newspaper articles made up a small portion, with books in the minority.

Mr D'Silva, who has been on the panel for nine years including three as its chairman, said depictions of homosexuality made up a small proportion of the cases, adding: "It is a recent issue."

When asked, an MDA spokesman said it tells importers to remove publications from distribution and to re-export them if they are found to breach the Undesirable Publications Act or the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications.

Mr D'Silva said that, for newspaper articles, the panel had on occasion met the papers' editors to explain the panel's concerns about the articles.

The Straits Times understands that more publications may have been disallowed as the MDA does not refer all cases to the panel, if the work is a clear breach of guidelines, for instance. A book titled The Destiny Of Islam In The Endtimes that "pitted Christianity against Islam" and a cookbook, Baked!, that "informed readers that (marijuana) consumption was normal and acceptable" were disallowed.

More than two million publications are imported into Singapore each year. "Most of the complaints MDA receives are about newspapers, followed to a smaller extent by magazines," said the spokesman.

Not all complaints result in publications being removed, she said. When the MDA received a complaint on sexual references in a book by children's author Roald Dahl, it advised retailers to place the book in a section for young adults. "This was done and the parent was satisfied with the solution."

zengkun@sph.com.sg