Forty-five arts groups reject MDA's Arts Term Licensing Scheme

Forty-five arts groups have backed a position paper by artists' network Arts Engage, strongly objecting to the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Arts Term Licensing Scheme.

The 12-page paper, which was released at 5pm on Friday, was signed by companies ranging from industry heavyweights such as the Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Repertory Theatre, to traditional arts companies such as the Chinese Theatre Circle.

The scheme, which will begin its pilot run in July, aims to cut red tape by allowing individuals and companies to self-classify performances with age-appropriate ratings according to MDA guidelines.

The arts groups' suggestion is to delay the implementation of the scheme, and that the MDA engage the artists and general public in a more robust round of consultations before such a scheme is rolled out.

Companies that sign up for the scheme must appoint content assessors to do the job. They can apply for two types of licences.

Tier 1 licences allow for the self-classification of General-rated performances, suitable for all ages. However, unscripted performances, or those touching on race, religion or politics, will still have to be submitted to the MDA for licensing.

Tier 2 licences allow for the self-classification of all performances rated up to R18, restricted to those aged 18 and above, but unscripted and outdoor performances with an Advisory, Advisory 16 or R18 rating will have to be individually licensed by the MDA

The paper released by Arts Engage lays out the group's concerns. It argues that using content assessors drawn from within arts groups to classify according to existing MDA guidelines conflicts with artistic integrity and is tantamount to self-censorship, which will curb creativity and artistic expression.

Rather than penalise arts groups for not classifying correctly, which the scheme will do, the paper makes the case for greater individual responsibility on the part of consumers. It says that "every industry has the right to defend itself, by legal means if necessary, against spurious complaints", and the arts industry should have the right to open dialogue with anyone who complains against the rating given to a performance.

Finally, the paper says the mechanics of the MDA classfication system themselves are subjective, citing different ratings assigned to different runs of the same show.

The term "self-classification" is a misrepresentation of the scheme, the arts groups argue, as it implies that the artists helped to develop classification guidelines and that censorship does not take place.

Far from arts groups being "empowered" by the scheme, "no other developed nation in the world requires the performing arts to be rated or classified in such a manner", the paper says.

It adds that MDA's definition of the scheme as "co-regulation" with the industry is misconstrued, as there is no genuine partnership between the artists and the MDA, with the content assessors merely functioning as extensions of the authority within the arts community.

In respose, MDA emphasised that participation in the scheme is optional, and Ms Chetra Sinnathamby, director of content and standards (films, video games & arts) says: "Those who choose to participate in the scheme enjoy cost and time savings while those do not wish to can continue to submit their individual applications to MDA."

She added that "over the years, MDA has in fact moved away from censorship to classification", and pointed out that the Arts Entertainment Classification Code, which was launched in June 2008, was drawn up with the close involvement of the citizen-based arts consultative panel and in consultation with the arts community.

"Content regulation has evolved to become a three-way partnership. MDA conducts comprehensive public surveys and works with its citizen-based consultative committees and the industry, to establish content guidelines," she says. "Rating and consumer advisories are intended to empower audiences, especially parents, in making their viewing choices."

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