MDA removes Arts Term Licensing from proposed amendments to act

The Media Development Authority (MDA) will not be including Arts Term Licensing in its list of proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act.

This comes after at least 45 arts groups registered strong opposition to the scheme when the authority launched a public consultation exercise on the proposed changes on May 12. They signed a position paper released by the artists' network Arts Engage on May 30, which detailed their objections to the scheme.

The voluntary scheme, one of several proposed amendments to the act, would have allowed individuals and arts groups to self-classify performances with age-appropriate ratings in line with the MDA's classification code.

Neither will the authority be implementing a pilot run of the scheme, which had been set to roll out in July. Instead, the status quo will remain: the MDA will assess each production from its 80 active licensees (which includes both arts groups and other event organisers) and give them age-appropriate advisories or ratings.

Ms Koh Lin-Net, chief executive of MDA, said: "We appreciate the very useful dialogues we had with Arts Engage, where we identified areas where we could work even better together.

"However in the area of term licensing, we realised that it was not a matter of whether or not the scheme could have been better designed. Rather, that there were fundamental differences in views which could not be resolved. For example, whether or not at the highest level of rating, any form of content should be allowed. Hence, it is better not to proceed with the option of the term licensing scheme."

In July, the authority held several meetings with representatives of these arts groups, as well as Arts Engage.

While the scheme would have cut a substantial amount of administrative red tape - term licensing would have allowed for the self-classification of General-rated performances, suitable for all ages, which comprised about 90 per cent of the 1,200 arts entertainment licenses issued last year - artists felt that appointing individuals from within the company to do the work of the MDA would prompt self-censorship, despite the supposed progressiveness of "co-regulation", which had been recommended during both the 2003 and 2010 Censorship Review.

Artists also expressed concern over the penalties for misclassification, the appeals process, and what they felt was inadequate consultation with artists on the classification guidelines. They suggested that the MDA delay the implementation of the scheme and hold further engagement with artists and the public before rolling it out.

In a statement, the authority noted "there are certain expectations of Arts Engage that MDA will not be able to meet". These included the expectation of autonomy in the application of arts classification guidelines, no "Not Allowed For All Ratings" category (effectively a ban on a work), and no punitive measures regardless of the type of breach, save for a revoking of the term licence.

The authority stated that "classification guidelines need to reflect the social sentiments of the wider community, which may at times run counter to the views of some arts groups". The classification guidelines were launched in 2008 and refined in 2013. The timings of these reviews depends on "societal changes" and the feedback the MDA receives.

The MDA is planning to embark on a comprehensive Content Standards Survey, and the results are expected to be published in the first half of next year. These findings may influence how the MDA adjusts its guidelines.

It is not confirmed when the amended bill will be tabled in Parliament.

The amendments which are set to go through includes: Updating the definition of "arts entertainment" to also mean that virtual performances, such as the live streaming of an overseas concert for public viewing, will not be licensed differently from a live event at the same location. The enforcement process will also be streamlined, so that the MDA can carry out its own investigations of arts entertainment breaches instead of subjecting organisers to police action, and allowing the MDA to offer composition fines for these breaches rather than court prosecution. In addition, there will be a clearer delineation of which events should be issued public entertainment licences by the police and arts entertainment licenses by the MDA.

Former Arts Nominated MP Janice Koh, who was active in responding to the proposed amendments, felt that this process of direct engagement between the MDA and Singapore artists was an "important" one.

She says: "I think this has been a "new normal" for MDA in terms of their relationship with arts groups. It is probably the first time we've had such in-depth discussions on the topic of arts regulation. I think MDA's decision reflects a certain grasp of where some of the complexities and fundamental differences are - and even agreeing to disagree is better than not seeing the other side at all.

"We know it might be challenging for the MDA to agree to or move on everything right now, but I believe the engagement process was still a valuable one."

She hopes that the MDA will still undertake a review of arts classification guidelines and a take more focused survey of arts audiences and their expectations of ratings and advisories.

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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