Set up in April 2002, the Censorship Review Committee (CRC) had the task of reviewing the policies and guidelines on regulation of media content which had last been reviewed 10 years ago. After months of deliberation, a comprehensive public survey and 13 focus group consultations, the committee released Thursday a set of recommendations that pushes the envelop only slightly.
This mainly reflects the fact that the survey and feedback showed the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans (70 percent) is satisfied with the current content guidelines, explains Liu Thai Ker, Chairman of the CRC.
"I was quite surprised that the difference between the 1992 survey and the 2002 survey was so little and that the difference between Housing Development Board (population) and non-HDB was so narrow," he adds. "The desire for change is very weak. The concern for protecting the young and core Asian values is still very strong and we cannot ignore this type of feedback," Liu notes.
Censorship is present in any society and is usually closely related to the core values of a community, thus unique to every country. Indeed, even the European Union has been unable to harmonize its censorship guidelines. In Singapore, strong conservative views are dominating, yet a young minority of well-traveled and educated Singaporeans has also been demanding greater diversity in choice.
Singapore's censorship guidelines are articulated around different "access tools" like classification, zoning - which refers to confining the access of a particular content to a specific location, for example Restricted 21 movies can not be shown in cinemas within HDB estates -- and belting -- which refers to confining screening or broadcast time of a particular sensitive content to late at night or early in the morning to keep it away from unintended viewers.
This means "Sex and the City" will finally be allowed to air on cable at certain late hours, though it remains unclear whether sexually explicit scenes will be cut or not.
The most significant recommendations are the creation of a new film rating system - Mature 18 will be introduced along General, Parental Guidance, No Children Under 15 PG, and Restricted 21 - as well as the introduction of video classification, which will de facto broaden the scope of video available in Singapore, as only videos with PG standard are currently in circulation.
The new M18 rating will allow 18 years old to view film such as "Shakespeare in Love" or "American Beauty."
Liu says the R21 rating had to remain because "strong concerns" remained in part of the community about removing it. "We can only stay a short-step ahead of the community. It has been a very delicate balancing act," he notes.
But the CRC has recommended that "greater leeway" be given to content for adults, although magazines like Playboy magazine will remain banned. Racial, religious subjects, and anything deemed to undermine national security and stability remain forbidden artistic territory.
Importantly, the committee urged parents to play a greater role, with the report noting current parental guidance of the young in media consumption was "grossly inadequate."
"In the long term, both parental guidance and public education should pay a bigger role. Given the advent of the Internet and other technological changes, leaving content regulation to the regulators alone would become increasingly difficult," it noted.
This is a clear sign that the authorities would like to shift the burden of responsibility and decision toward its citizens.
Reacting to the report, Alvin Tan, artistic director of The Necessary Stage said that as citizens of a progressive nation, Singaporeans have to learn "to respond to zoning and classification systems."
"I think that is enough not to impinge on another person's sensibility or value system. One can discern from the publicity whether one should go for the performance or movie. Those who go and then complain later should be educated into taking accountability for the decision they make," Tan says.
Tan was cautious to comment on how effective the report will be: "We would like to see how it will unfold in its application."
"The report says that a work can explore but not promote homosexuality. Works that cover homosexuality must then always take the apologetic position. Art is about how a story is told and not having to be preoccupied with how content is managed," said the director of a recent staged play Mardi Gras, about a group of people coming together to organize Singapore's first Gay Pride Parade.
But Liu notes that for some segments of the society which will find the changes made by the CRC no drastic enough, others will caution against the loosening up.