Parliament: MPs back cancellation of Watain concert, but question last-minute reversal

Swedish black metal band Watain mingling with fans on March 7, 2019, after their performance was cancelled. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Several MPs were supportive of the move to ban Swedish black metal band Watain's performance here but also hoped that there will not be a repeat of the last-minute concert cancellation.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said that revoking the concert licence was a valid move.

"The track record of Watain and its nonchalance towards acts of terrorism, and going beyond its onstage satanic rituals into the realm of lawlessness and criminal activity are, to say the least, very disturbing," she said.

Watain singer Erik Danielsson's blatant anti-Christian views and his encouragement of church burning are highly alarming and offensive, she added.

However, she said, it is unfortunate that the Government's decision was reversed so close to the event date.

"For that, I think an apology is due to the Watain group and the affected concert-goers. But for Government to go ahead with the concert just because it was initially approved, after knowing what it now knows, would have been a wrong decision."

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said that it is ironic that the cancellation brought far more attention to the band than it would have got, had the concert gone ahead.

He noted that local black metal bands have been part of Singapore's entertainment ecosystem for many years now and foreign black metal bands had been allowed into the country previously.

"To that end, how will IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority) assess applications for black metal groups in future? Furthermore, which agency will compensate Watain's promoters and what amount does the wasted expenditure come up to?" he asked.

The Government must be careful not to be perceived as taking sides and instead err on the side of wisdom in the entertainment and performing arts space, he said.

"Instead of a hard policy such as bans, a graduated approach establishing a range of conditions like that done by IMDA in its original assessment of the Watain concert would better reflect the compromises required to create and sustain as accommodating and robust a common public space as possible," he added.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam later replied that the population is dynamic. "Reactions change over periods of time. And we have to assess it with the facts we have," he said.

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Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) noted that there is a hypocrisy and inconsistency between what Watain advocates and what they do as a band.

"Even as the group encourages hate speech and urges the destruction of harmonious and constructive communities, its members continue to enjoy the convenience and even luxuries of the products of peace. These include the infrastructure and the services of people from different races and religions working hard to provide them with clean water, safe food, reliable travel and electricity which make their concerts possible," she said.

"People who advocate hatred, chaos and destruction cannot have it both ways."

Nominated MP Terence Ho hoped the Government could help citizens make informed decisions and appreciate the diversity of creative expressions in the arts, culture and entertainment.

"While we make sure that we regulate hate speech and protect our social fabric, we also need to make sure that we don't end up reducing the space for creative expression and imagination," he said.

"Creative expression does need space to flourish and a willingness to challenge boundaries. While we must be responsible for what we say or do in the public arena, we also need to understand creative expressions often should not be taken literally."

He also suggested that the agencies responsible for licensing content coordinate better to prevent last-minute decision changes.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said that IMDA regulates music, performances and art, and that the Ministry of Home Affairs does not look at music and artistic content.

The ministry is mainly focused on public order issues, and it is concerned with the maintenance of racial and religious harmony, as it can impact public order.

"In the ban on Watain, there is no value judgment on black metal music," she said.

"The fact of the matter is that the MHA was principally concerned about the words and the message that were being put out by the band, and the feelings, in this case, from the mainstream Christian community. It was not a value judgment on the genre of music."

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