Why an R18 rating for Manifesto?

Manifesto has been classified R18 for its exploration of socio-political issues.
Manifesto has been classified R18 for its exploration of socio-political issues. PHOTO: CALEB MING/ SURROUND

I am writing in to express my grave concern over the R18 rating given by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to The Necessary Stage's latest production Manifesto.

In the MDA database, it is stated that "the play has been classified R18 with the consumer advice 'Mature Content' for its exploration of socio-political issues".

The purpose of a ratings system is to protect the young from unsuitable content. In almost all countries, this is limited to content considered "morally offensive", which includes graphic sex, violence, substance abuse and profanity.

I have no quarrel with an R18 rating for works which feature excessive nudity, simulated sex acts or graphic violence.

There is broad social consensus that those below a certain age should not be exposed to such content. This is based on concerns that they might find certain images terrifying, experiment with sex or imitate acts of profanity and violence without realising the full consequences of their actions.

Already an R18 classification for sexual content errs on the conservative side since the age of consent in Singapore is 16 years old.

However, to restrict younger audiences access to socio-political content is surely a novel form of censorship that is not practised in many other developed countries. By this logic, political rallies or videos of parliamentary proceedings should also be restricted to those above 18 since they deal directly with political issues.

The inconsistency in the application of this rating for socio-political content also suggests that the public servants in MDA are not exercising the political neutrality that the public expects from them.

For example, one of the most political plays staged last year was LKY The Musical, which featured the political leaders of a local political party. Yet it was passed with a "General" rating, marking it as "suitable for a general audience, including young children".

The Necessary Stage is no stranger to socio-political issues. Some of its most political plays, such as Gemuk Girls and Model Citizens, were passed with an "Advisory 16" rating, which is a consumer advisory and not an enforceable restriction.

This latest incident is thus regressive. I urge the MDA to explain its rationale for rating socio-political plays, bearing in mind that the way for young people to become more politically mature is by exposing them to diverse works that express a spectrum of political views.

Alfian Sa'at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Why an R18 rating for Manifesto?'. Subscribe