Singapore gay censorship refers to the censorship of LGBT themes in the following media:
- free-to-air television
- subscription television
- the Internet
- video games
- the performing arts
- talks and speeches
- audio recordings
- 1 Regulation & implementation
- 2 Justification
- 3 Broadcast media
- 3.1 Free-to-air television
- 3.1.1 Instances of free-to-air TV censorship
- 188.8.131.52 2003
- 184.108.40.206 2007
- 220.127.116.11 2008
- 18.104.22.168 2009
- 22.214.171.124 2016
- 3.1.1 Instances of free-to-air TV censorship
- 3.2 Subscription television
- 3.3 Radio
- 3.1 Free-to-air television
- 4 Films and videos
- 5 Music
- 6 Video games
- 7 Performing arts
- 8 Print
- 9 Internet
- 10 Exhibitions
- 11 Miscellaneous events
- 12 Denial of gay censorship by the Government
- 13 Reaction to gay censorship
- 14 See also
- 15 External links
- 16 References
- 17 Acknowledgements
Regulation & implementation
Before one is able to publicly broadcast or perform content with LGBT themes, one first has to fulfill licencing requirements. This topic is dealt with in the main article, "Licencing requirements for public LGBT expression".
Media Development Authoriy
- Main article: Media Development Authority
In 2002, the Government enacted the Media Development Authority of Singapore Act to establish and incorporate the Media Development Authority (MDA). The latter statutory board, under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), is empowered to license and regulate media services in Singapore via the publication of guidelines and standards regarding the content of media services, any equipment or facility used in connection with the provision of media services, and other media-related issues. (Before 2002, these functions were handled by the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), the precursor to the MDA).
The following are miscellaneous legal Acts which govern the media industry as a whole, including broadcasting, films, publications, newspapers, radio, games, the Internet, the Arts, public entertainment and advertising:
- Broadcasting Act - an Act to regulate the dealing, operation and ownership of broadcasting services and apparatus, including matters connected therewith.
- Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act - an Act which makes it the statutory duty of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority to ensure that nothing is included in any broadcasting service which is against public interest or order, national harmony or which offends against good taste or decency.
- Films Act - an Act relating to the possession, importation, making, distribution and exhibition of films, and which establishes the Board of Film Censors (BFC).
- Newspaper and Printing Presses Act - an Act for the licensing of newspaper companies and matters connected therewith.
- Public Entertainments and Meetings Act - an Act to provide for the regulation of public entertainments and meetings.
- Undesirable Publications Act - an Act to prevent the importation, distribution or reproduction of undesirable publications and for purposes connected therewith.
In exercise of the powers conferred by the Media Development Authority of Singapore Act, the MDA issues the following Codes of Practice and guidelines for market conduct in the provision of media services and licencing conditions for arts entertainment:
- Code of Practice for Market Conduct (also referred to as the Media Market Conduct Code)
- Variation of Code of Practice for Market Conduct
- Free-to-Air Television Programme Code
- Subscription Television Programme Code
- Television Advertising Code
- Free-To-Air Radio Programme Code
- Radio Advertising and Sponsorship Code
- Internet Code of Practice
- Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification
- Licencing conditions for arts entertainment
- Board of Film Censors Classification Guidelines
On 8 July 2016, a small but groundbreaking set of regulations entitled, "Information Circular in respect of MDA's Required Baseline Safeguards for Over-The-Top Content Services Offering R21 Content" slipped quietly into the MDA's website. The new rules stated that non-free-to-air streaming content providers (like Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, or any number of players offering K-drama or Bollywood movies) must provide age-check firewalls for R21 content. It was one of the first statements by the regulator that acknowledged the availability of non-video-on-demand R21 shows in Singapore from online subscription streaming media providers. The text also made it clear that the MDA did not mind, as long as age checks were in place. The relaxation of rules could possibly apply in future to cable TV operators of non-video-on-demand channels as well.
Censorship Review Committee
- Main article: Censorship Review Committee
The Censorship Review Committee (CRC) is a government-appointed committee that reviews and makes recommendations regarding Singapore's censorship policies. Its mandate is to update censorship objectives and principles as society evolves while preserving Singapore's broader interests - national security, social cohesion, and community and family values. First convened in 1992, the committee was to be formed once every decade. However, the government decided to form a mid-term CRC in 2009 in view of the rapid changes in Singapore's media and social landscape.
2002/2003 CRC Report
- Take a more flexible and contextual approach when dealing with homosexual themes and scenes in content.
- Allow greater leeway for adults, through suitable channels, to access such content provided it is not exploitative.
2010 CRC Report
- The CRC 2003 recommended that the MDA take a more flexible and contextual approach for homosexual content. It further proposed that greater leeway be given to adults, through suitable channels, to access such content provided the material is not exploitative. In accepting and implementing this recommendation, the MDA has gradually moved towards allowing more content on homosexuality. Generally such content is allowed under the higher, restricted ratings to address concerns over their suitability for younger viewers. Content which glamourises or promotes a homosexual lifestyle is disallowed.
- This CRC agrees with the proposition that depiction should not be presumed to mean promotion of homosexual lifestyles, and recommends that the MDA continues to adopt a flexible and contextual approach in classifying homosexual content. This will ensure that adults have a wider variety of choices while the young are protected from content deemed unsuitable for them.
- The CRC notes that the issue of homosexuality continues to be a sensitive subject for many Singaporeans. Nevertheless, based on the principle of informed adult choice, the CRC recommends that a lighter touch be taken in classifying non-explicit homosexual content, subject
to the provision of clear and unambiguous consumer advisories.
However, at the same time and as if to contradict itself, the 2010 CRC Report also reaffirmed the status quo of the Internet Code of Practice, first laid down in 1997, which deemed "prohibited material" as that which "advocates homosexuality or lesbianism".
This contentious phrase has led many human rights activists to argue that it is preposterous for the MDA to regard realistic, positive portrayals of gay men and lesbians, and speeches, interviews or conversations in support of LGBT equality, as "advocating" homosexuality.
The Government of Singapore argues that censorship of political, racial, religious, cultural and sexual issues to a certain extent is necessary to avoid upsetting the balance of Singapore's delicate, conservative, multiracial society.
On 15 July 1996, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), a precursor of the Media Development Authority (MDA), issued Notification no. 2400/96, which specified a Code of Practice which covered not only the Internet, but also all broadcast media, including television, cable and radio. The foreword to the Code of Practice stated:
- "The Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act (Cap. 297) makes it the statutory duty of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority to ensure that nothing is included in any broadcasting service which is against public interest or order, national harmony or which offends against good taste or decency."
Amongst the material to be prohibited were:
- "Contents which depict or propagate sexual perversions such as homosexuality, lesbianism, and paedophilia."
Owing to the ignorance of the SBA that homosexuality and lesbianism were not 'sexual perversions' according to prevailing international medical opinion but variations of the norm, and widespread public dissatisfaction with the vague, inaccurate and unnecessarily restrictive wording of the Code of Practice, Notification no. 2400/96 of 15th July 1996 was cancelled and replaced with the Internet Code of Practice on 1 November 1997. The new document modified the previous impugned phrase to now state:
- "whether the material advocates homosexuality or lesbianism, or depicts or promotes incest, paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia".
While being a quantum leap away from incorrectly labelling homosexuality a sexual perversion, the non-specification of what exactly "advocates homosexuality or lesbianism" made it a taboo subject for television documentaries for 7 years following the first issuance of the Code.
The state-owned MediaCorp controls all free-to-air terrestrial local TV channels licensed to broadcast in Singapore, as well as 13 radio channels. Both Free-to-Air and Pay TV channels are available on cable. Private ownership of satellite dishes is illegal, though international TV broadcasts (such as CNN, BBC, etc.) are available on StarHub's cable TV service Starhub TV and SingTel's IPTV service mio TV.
The Media Development Authority, through its Programme Advisory Committees for each of the four official languages, constantly monitors and provides feedback on broadcast content. Permissible content on Singaporean TV is minutely regulated by the MDA's Free-to-Air Television Programme Code.
Part 5 of the Code states that TV programs "should not in any way promote, justify or glamorise" homosexuality in any form.
According to clause 3.2 of the Free-To-Air Television Programme Code, “all programmes broadcast between 6am and 10pm must be suitable for family audiences”.
Programmes with “mature content” are described in the Code’s annex as topics such as “drug use, prostitution or homosexuality”.
Instances of free-to-air TV censorship
Anne Heche interview on Channel i
The penalty for media licencees flouting the Code is a hefty fine, as SPH MediaWorks' Channel i, the now-defunct English-language sister channel of Channel U, discovered after it aired an interview with Anne Heche in 2003,. During the interview, Heche spoke about her lesbian relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, amongst other things. Channel i was subsequently fined $15,000 by the SBA censorship watchdog for "justifying, promoting and glamourising homosexuality". The MDA website also published a statement that "broadcasting programmes which glamourise and promote lesbianism is considered a major breach of the (Free-To-Air TV Programme) Code."
Melissa Etheridge's kissing & thanking of wife during Oscars on Channel 5
During Channel 5's live broadcast of the 79th Academy Awards held on Sunday night, 25 February 2007 (California time); Monday morning, 26 February 2007 (Singapore time), when it was announced that Melissa Etheridge had won the Oscar for Best Original Song - "I Need to Wake Up" from the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" - the camera immediately swung over to her getting up from her seat. As she moved out to the aisle in order to get up to the stage, she bent over to kiss her wife seated next to her. MediaCorp censored this part during the repeat telecast on Monday night, Singapore time. Instead, Channel 5 showed Etheridge getting up and then disruptedly showed her a few feet away walking to the stage. Also, at the start of her acceptance speech, she said, "I have to thank my incredible wife Tammy and our four children...". The words "incredible wife" were edited out during the repeat telecast.
Gay couple & adopted baby in home decor series on Channel 5
MediaCorp has also been fined repeatedly for violations of the Code. The most recent incident was in April 2008 when it was fined $15,000 by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for airing a show that featured a gay couple and their adopted baby. The MDA said that an episode of an acquired home and decor series, Find and Design, "normalises and promotes a gay lifestyle". In the episode, aired on Channel 5 at 7.30am on Sunday, 13 January 2008, the host helped a gay couple turn their game room into a nursery for their adopted baby. The MDA objected to several scenes of the couple and their baby together, and the host's acknowledgement of the pair as a family. It said MediaCorp breached the Free-to-Air Television Programme Code, "which disallows programmes that promote, justify or glamorise gay lifestyles". The MDA had consulted the Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes which frowned on the episode's presentation of a gay relationship as an acceptable family unit, and its airing during family viewing hours.
Oscar acceptance speech for documentary "Freeheld" on Channel 5
In Channel 5's repeat telecast of the 80th Academy Awards on the evening of Monday, 25 February 2008, Cynthia Wade, winner of the Oscar for Best Short Documentary for her film Freeheld, had the following words censored by MediaCorp from the beginning of her thank you speech,: "Thank you, it was Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s dying wish that her fight against discrimination would make a difference for all the same-sex couples across the country that faces discrimination everyday, discrimination that I don’t face as a married woman. I want to thank Shirlene Evans and HBO for making this film and having it broadcast on Cinemax later this year."
Freeheld follows the true story of Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester who spent 25 years protecting the rights of victims and putting her life on the line for them in New Jersey. Then she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The film chronicles her fight to transfer her earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, something that would happen automatically in the case of heterosexual couples, but which led to enormous resistance in her case. Freeheld combines tension-filled political drama with personal detail, creating a nuanced study of a grassroots fight for justice.
Dustin Lance Black & Sean Penn's Oscar acceptance speeches for "Milk" on Channel 5
During the repeat telecast of the 81st Academy Awards on Channel 5 on 24 February 2009, the speeches by actor Sean Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black who won Oscars for their work in "Milk" were abruptly cut,. David Christie, Senior Manager (Censorship), Network Programming & Promotions Channel 5, MediaCorp replied in The Straits Times forum to complaints about the censorship, "We wish to clarify that the programme was edited for the encore telecast in accordance to the Media Development Authority (MDA) Programme Code - specifically, the relevant guidelines relating to the treatment and portrayal of homosexual themes and issues. The code explicitly disallows content that sympathises with, promotes or normalises such a lifestyle from being broadcast. Dustin Lance Black, whose script for Milk won the award for original screenplay, and Sean Penn who played the slain gay rights leader in the same movie, both made a passionate plea for same-sex marriage rights in their acceptance speeches. The encore telecast of the 81st Annual Academy Awards on Channel 5 would have been in serious breach of the MDA Programme Code if such controversial content was not editorially managed."
Obama's pro-LGBT comments on Ellen on Channel 5 and Starhub TV
In a special Valentine's Day episode of Ellen that aired in the United States on 12 February 2016, President Obama praised the openly gay talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres for her role in advocating gay rights. However, when it was broadcast in Singapore on 23 February 2016 over Mediacorp’s Channel 5, the segment was edited out,. It was also snipped from cable TV channel Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514). Netizens discovered the discrepancy between the original episode and the Singapore version after news website Gay Star News reported it.
Lee Hung Sheng, assistant vice-president of programming for Mediacorp's Channel 5, confirmed to The Straits Times that the American leader’s speech was cut. He said: “In compliance with Singapore’s Free-To-Air TV programme guidelines, the brief segment on Mr. Obama’s firm endorsement and support of gay rights issues was edited out for our broadcast on Channel 5. The removal of the segment did not pose any continuity issues with our televised programme.”
As of September 2010, in response to the 2010 Censorship Review Committee's recommendations, the MDA partially relaxed television broadcast guidelines to allow subscription TV operators to screen NC16, M18 and R21 films containing explicit content on video-on-demand (VOD),. But before customers could rent an interactive set-top box and subscribe to the VOD channel, they had to verify their identities to ensure that they were above 21 and register for an R21 personal identification number (PIN) to prevent unauthorised access.
On 8 July 2016, a small but groundbreaking set of regulations entitled, "Information Circular in respect of MDA's Required Baseline Safeguards for Over-The-Top Content Services Offering R21 Content" slipped quietly into the MDA's website. The new rules stated that non-free-to-air streaming content providers (like Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, or any number of players offering K-drama or Bollywood movies) must provide age-check firewalls for R21 content. It was one of the first statements by the regulator that acknowledged the availability of non-video-on-demand R21 shows in Singapore from online subscription streaming media providers. The text also made it clear that the MDA did not mind, as long as age checks were in place. The relaxation of rules could possibly apply in future to cable TV operators of non-video-on-demand channels as well. The corollary of this was that gay-affirmative films like Milk, The Kids Are All Right and Stonewall could henceforth be viewed in their uncut or at least R21 versions on these platforms without having to be watered down to M18 standards.
However, despite this liberalisation, clause 6.4 of the Subscription Television Programme Code still states: “Programmes that depict a homosexual lifestyle should be sensitive to community values. They should not promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle.”
(The following image is a screen capture of the relevant section of the downloadable PDF of the Subscription Television Programme Code):
Instances of subscription TV censorship
Sam Smith's Oscar speech LGBT dedication on Singapore's HBO
When Sam Smith received an Oscar during the Academy Awards in 2016 for best original song - "Writing’s on the Wall" from the James Bond movie, "Spectre", he referenced a quote by Ian McKellen about homophobia within the film industry:
“I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen and he said no openly gay man had won an Oscar. If this is the case, I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope that we can all stand as equals one day.”
Smith's speech was broadcast intact during the live telecast on the morning of Monday, 29 March 2016 on Singapore's HBO viewable on cable TV. However, his speech was censored during the repeat telecast at night on the same date.
Films and videos
The Films Act established the Board of Film Censors (BFC) which must consist of 3 members or more. These include a Chairman and two others, all of whom are Censors of Films appointed by the Minister of Communications and Information. The BFC is empowered by the Act to approve, prohibit, classify, alter and excise films.
Film censorship has historically been strict, although the gradual introduction of the NC16, M18 and R21 ratings now allow most major Hollywood features to be shown uncut in Singapore. The rating system was first introduced in 1991. It contained the now defunct R(A) classification to allow those aged 18 years and above to watch films with explicit content. However, due to public objection, the classification system was revised and the age limit for R(A) films was lifted from 18 to 21 years.
A new film rating system was introduced in September 2003 and came into effect on March 2004. In addition to the existing categories of G, PG, NC16 and R(A), the new M18 (Mature 18) classification was introduced. The R(A) rating was changed to R21, with the censorship review committee of 2003 proposing to "allow greater leeway to non-exploitative sex and nudity" in content for adults as well to take a "more flexible and contextual approach" to homosexual content in film.
Koh June May, senior manager of corporate and marketing communications at the MDA said, "We are moving towards classification and industry co-regulation. Cinemagoers had more options following the introduction of the revised classification system."
Prior to the introduction of M18, there was rarely a middle ground between PG and R(A). There was NC16, which was introduced in 1992, but it took seven years before the NC16 rating was given to Saving Private Ryan. Even after that, it was not often used. Before the new system was established, film distributors sometimes faced an awkward balancing act - release a film with certain risqué scenes with a PG rating and expect cuts, or release the film uncut and expect it to be rated R(A), which would damage the film's box office potential. So M18 was a significant middle ground to enable a wider audience to see more films in their original form.
The MDA publishes the Board of Film Censors Classification Guidelines, downloadable as a PDF via a link on its website:. Under the latest guidelines dated 15 July 2011, released films submitted to it are classified under six ratings:
- G (General) - Suitable for all ages. Everyone is admitted.
- PG (Parental Guidance) - Suitable for most but parents should guide their young. No age-restriction for admission. May contain moderate violence, rear nudity, mild coarse language and mild sex references/innuendos.
- PG13 (Parental Guidance for children below 13) - Recommended by the Censorship Review Committee in 2009, the PG13 rating is given to films with content deemed unsuitable for young children but for which an NC16 rating is not warranted. May contain moderate violence with some details, some mature themes, intense and realistic horror, moderate sexual imagery, mild sexual activities, partial/side nudity, discreet drug use/references and moderate coarse language including brief strong usage.
- NC16 (No Children below 16 years of age) - May contain brief scenes of frontal nudity with/without semi-sexual context, moderate sexual activity without strong details, graphic violence/gore, drug use with some details, strong coarse language and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 1993).
- M18 (Mature 18, for persons 18 years and above) - May contain full frontal nudity with moderate details in semi-sexual context, strong graphic violence/gore, frequent strong coarse language, frequent drug use with some details, strong sexual activity with some details and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 2004).
- R21 (Restricted to persons 21 years and above) - May contain graphic full frontal nudity with/without sexual context, sequences of explicit and prolonged simulated sexual activities, moderate homosexual sex acts, pervasive strong coarse language, very strong graphic violence/gore and torture, detailed drug taking activities/sequences and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 2004).
- NAR (Not Allowed for all Ratings/Banned) - Contains issues that are likely to cause controversy in Singapore.
Note: Any outright denigration of race or religion, matters that threaten national interest, depictions of hardcore pornographic scenes/unsimulated sex and depiction of explicit homosexual acts are still banned. Royston Tan's award-winning 15, a graphic depiction of Singapore's underbelly, was only allowed after over 20 scenes were cut.
The categories G, PG and PG13 are age-advisory ratings. NC16, M18 and R21 are age-restricted ratings.
A Film Exhibition Licence is required for anyone who wishes to exhibit films classified as NC16 (No Admission for children under 16), M18 and R21. A temporary Film Exhibition Licence requires a security deposit of S$10,000 which will be returned upon licence termination or licence expiry.
As of March 2004, only cinemas located in downtown Singapore are licenced to screen R21-rated movies such as Hollywood's gay biopic Milk which won Sean Penn the 2009 Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a homosexual politician. A ban on showing R21 movies remains in suburban cinemas.
Movies that are classified as R21 are prohibited from video releases in shops and television advertisements. However, as recommended by the latest CRC in September 2010, R21 video-on-demand (VOD) is now allowed on subscription TV.
Instances of film censorship
- Main article: Solos
Solos was the first gay feature-length film and undoubtedly the most sexually explicit gay movie to be made in Singapore. It tells the story of the relationship between a junior college student and his male teacher. The movie stars veteran actor Lim Yu-Beng as the teacher, co-director and screenplay writer Loo Zihan as the student and Goh Guat Kian as the latter's mother who suffers from depression. Also co-directed by Kan Lume, it bagged the Premio Nuovi Sguardi Award at the 2008 Torino GLBT Film Festival. Producer Florence Ang announced that the film would be withdrawn from its world premiere on April 25 2007 at the 2007 Singapore International Film Festival "to preserve the principle that films at the festival should be shown uncut". Censors had demanded 3 cuts to the 77-minute dialogueless film. It was never shown in Singapore.
- Main article: Boy (2009 film)
In early 2009, the Media Development Authority banned the film "Boy" by Filipino filmmaker Aureus Solito, from the Singapore International Film Festival, accusing it of "normalising" homosexuality.
"The second film, Boy, revolves around a teenager who is attracted to a young dancer in a gay bar and ends up having a homosexual relationship with him. The film includes a prolonged and explicit homosexual love-making sequence between the teenager and the dancer. The panel was also consulted about the film. Members felt that the film normalised homosexuality and that the homosexual scene was prolonged and explicit and filmed in a romanticised manner. The panel chairman, Mr Vijay Chandran, observed that 'the homosexual love-making scene has exceeded the guidelines and the board, by allowing it, will shift the markers set by the community'. The board agrees and hence Boy has not been passed for classification."
Tanjong Rhu & Threshold
Two short films, "Tanjong Rhu" by Boo Junfeng and "Threshold" by Loo Zihan, both of which were partially funded by Fridae and loosely based on true life incidents of police entrapment of 12 gay men in the first and a gay medical student in the second, were pulled just days before they were to be screened at the 6th annual Singapore Short Cuts festival which opened on 15 August 2009 .
The festival was organised by the National Museum and the Singapore Film Commission which operates under the auspices of the Media Development Authority, and featured 19 short films over two weekends.
Both films were rated R21 and uncut by the censorship board and could have legally been shown at the festival or at any other venue licensed to screen R21 films. No reason was given for the films' withdrawal and the directors declined to speculate on the reasons.
The Kids Are All Right
- Main article: The Kids Are All Right
The Oscar-nominated American drama "The Kids Are All Right", with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple raising two children, was given an R21 rating and a one-print-release restriction by the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Board of Film Censors (BFC). In contrast, the Hong Kong film, "All About Love", with Sandra Ng and Vivian Chow as two pregnant bisexuals deciding whether or not to start a family together, was rated R21 with no further conditions. Both films were passed uncut.
MDA's Director for Media Content and Standards, Amy Chua, said the portrayal of homosexuality in Love was within the film classification guidelines, whereas that in Kids exceeded the guidelines. According to the guidelines, which Chua said "reflect prevailing community mores and values', "Films should not promote or normalise a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and nonexplicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21."
Apparently, The Kids Are All Right had overstepped the boundary because it portrayed the two lesbians and their children as a normal family. Chua added, "Films which clearly exceed the guidelines will not be classified for public release at all. A one-print condition will be considered only in highly exceptional circumstances. In this instance, MDA took into account the higher level of interest in The Kids Are All Right following its Oscar nominations." It had been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The BFC's R21 rating and one-print decision on the film was appealed in vain by co-distributor Cathay-Keris Films. In a letter dated 15 February 2011, the committee of appeal noted that allowing the film to be screened at all was a concession. The consumer advisory for Kids was "homosexual theme" and that for Love was "homosexual content". According to the MDA, "homosexual content" meant only certain portions of the film contain homosexual elements, while "homosexual theme" meant a large portion, or the entire film, contains homosexual elements.
100 Butches #9 Ruby
In 2012, organisers of the exhibition "Landing Places", which was given an NC16 rating by the MDA and which was held from 16 August to 6 September 2012 at Objectifs, 56A Arab Street as part of IndigNation 2012, announced that they would not be screening a 52-second animated film entitled "100 Butches #9 Ruby" as a S$10,000 deposit was needed to be able to do so. Under the MDA's regulations, a Film Exhibition Licence is required for anyone who wishes to exhibit films classified as NC16 (No Admission for children under 16), M18 and R21. A temporary Film Exhibition Licence requires a security deposit of S$10,000 which will be returned upon licence termination or licence expiry.
Curator of the exhibition Tania De Rozario said that the film had been rated for "mature content" but the MDA did not provide further details. The animation contains no sex, violence, nudity, foul language, drug references or elements of horror. In a New York film festival (MIX NYC: New York Queer Experimental Film/Video Festival), the producer submitted it under the children's category. De Rozario added that while applying for the film to be classified, the form contained a section titled "Declaration of Content Concerns" which included the categories: sex, violence, language, nudity, drug use and themes. And under "themes", homosexuality was grouped together with child abuse and terrorism.
When notified of the rating, Lim said, "I had no idea what a dangerous and repressive environment Singapore was. Of course I'm totally dismayed, disappointed, frustrated." The exhibition license requirement was waived on the other artworks including drawing, painting, photography, collage, and animation by 10 queer artists on the theme of how their sexualities affect the ways in which one defines, creates, articulates, questions, rejects and/or relates to notions of home.
Blue Is The Warmest Color
- Main article: Blue Is The Warmest Color
In March 2014, the 2013 Palme d'Or winner, Blue Is The Warmest Color, was rated R21 with the consumer advice of homosexual content and had 8 minutes cut. The movie was released in local cinemas on 1 May 2014.
The French drama by writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche centred on the relationship between teenager Adele and older art student Emma. The prestigious Palme d'Or was awarded to the director and, for the first time in the festival's history, also to the lead actresses, Lea Seydoux (Emma) and Adele Exarchopoulos (Adele). According to the MDA's films classification database, the film contained "several strong, prolonged and explicit sexual scenes between the two women". They included a 7-minute-long sexual scene "where the two female protagonists appear naked and engaged in various sexual activities, including oral sex and masturbation".
Janet Jackson's albums Velvet Rope and All For You were also banned due to homosexual and sexually explicit themes that the Broadcast, Publications and Arts Appeal Committee (BPAA) found "not acceptable to our society". The ban has since been lifted.
On 14 April 2008, the Media Development Authority announced that an official video games classification system would come into effect on 28 April 2008. Under the system, video games that contain nudity, coarse language, drug use and violence, will be given a rating sticker similar to those found on video media in Singapore with either one of the two ratings:
- ADV (Age Advisory) - Anyone can buy a video game with this rating, but it is not recommended for children. Contains mature themes, some violence with little or no blood, mild drug use, implied sexual activity, partial nudity and infrequent explicit language.
- M18 (Mature 18) - Nobody under age 18 can buy a video game with this rating. Contains adult and/or offensive themes, realistic depictions of violence with/without blood, strong drug use, nudity with/without sexual context and frequent explicit language.
Games that do not fall into any of these categories and are approved for general audiences do not require these stickers and games containing offensive material (such as racial or religious denigration) are still banned. The purchase of games with the M18 rating legally require retailers to conduct age checks, while "Age Advisory" games are not required to have mandatory age checks.
Prior to the classification system, the MDA had banned several video games. Examples were (as of November 2007) The Darkness (due to presence of graphic violence and swear words) and Mass Effect from Bioware for lesbian content. However, similar games with graphic violence such as Prince of Persia and Gears of War (players can perform decapitation moves) or other games by Bioware like Neverwinter Nights and Jade Empire (which both allow the possibility of male-male and female-female romances) were not banned or censored.
Instances of video game censorship
- Main article: Ban of Mass Effect video game for lesbian scene
In November 2007, the Media Development Authority banned the sale of an Xbox video game that featurs the option of an intimate, caressing scene between two female characters - one human and the other alien - if the player chooses to play as a female. "Mass Effect" from Bioware, a futuristic space adventure, contained "a scene of lesbian intimacy... as such the game has been disallowed," the deputy director of the Board of Film Censors, a part of the MDA, said in the statement.
Under the then existing local guidelines, video games sold in Singapore could not "feature exploitative or gratuitous sex and violence, or denigrate any race or religion," the official said. "Mass Effect" was to be launched globally the following week. The MDA said a new video games classification system would be introduced in 2008 could allow titles such as "Mass Effect" to be passed and classified appropriately.
The scripts of all plays to be performed in Singapore must be vetted in advance by the Media Development Authority (MDA), which has the right to ban any it views as "contrary to the public interest". Appeals against MDA's decisions can be made to the Broadcast, Publications and Arts Appeal Committee (BPAAC).
Instances of performing arts censorship
- Main article: Brother Cane
In 1994, performance artist Josef Ng protested the arrest and caning of 12 homosexual men by caning slabs of tofu, then turning his back to the audience and snipping off some pubic hair. He was charged with committing an obscene act and banned from performing in public, and his theatre group's grants were cancelled.
"Come on, straight boy" by Koh Jee Leong
For ContraDiction 2, which was the penultimate event of IndigNation 2006, Koh Jee Leong's poem, "Come on, straight boy" was the only work banned by the Media Development Authority, citing the reason that it was "encouraging homosexuality".
The first year that the popular LGBT literary event was held in 2005, the organisers were told that they needed to apply for an arts entertainment license despite the fact that most literary readings in Singapore were permitted to carry on without a license. The license had been granted every year since then, but most for years (certainly from 2007 onwards), the event was labeled R(18), even when one of the performers was clearly stated to be 16 years old. From recollection, no reason was given for the R-rating.
Koh performed “Brother” and a gruesome aural depiction of life in Chinese hell entitled “Hungry Ghosts” in place of "Come on, straight boy". It was not until the ContraDiction held during IndigNation 2014 that Koh's poem was approved for reading:
"Lee Low Tar" by Ng Yi-Sheng
On Tuesday, 24 July 2007, writer Ng Yi-Sheng penned a "fictional, metatextual farce" entitled "Lee Low Tar" and planned to read the work on Sunday, 5 August 2007 during "Tall Tales and Short Stories", an IndigNation 2007 event. The MDA deemed such an event an arts performance and insisted that the organisers obtain an arts entertainment licence.
Ng, who had planned something a little more spontaneous, then had to put down his story in words. Ng told IndigNation organiser Alex Au, "I had no inclination to write it in letter form until MDA demanded a licence application. My irritation with them imposing this system on us put pressure on me to create something *worth* their attention. And while I knew they'd probably ban it (as they did your photos), I was also completely aware that this was part of the game; that their action of covering their backsides by banning something they're uncomfortable with (though for no specific reason) would backfire in the end, through enhanced public interest in a text that suggests that they're gerontophilic paranoiacs. In short, I am not the victim here. They are."
On 1 August 2007, the MDA rejected Ng's text. He was not allowed to read it at the event. The MDA gave a one-line reason in their letter: "The content of Lee Low Tar has been disallowed as it had gone beyond good taste and decency in taking a disparaging and disrespectful view of public officers."
The event eventually went on, but as a talk, not an arts event. Ng spent his allotted time sharing with the audience his views about the MDA and the inspiration behind his story.
Wild Rice's grant cut for promoting alternative lifestyles
In May 2010, the National Arts Council (NAC) cut the annual grant given to local theatre company Wild Rice. It would only get $170,000 for the year, down from $190,000 in 2009. It was the lowest annual grant that the company had received from the Council. Artistic director Ivan Heng said the NAC told him funding was cut because its productions promoted alternative lifestyles, were critical of government policies and satirised political leaders. In March 2011, the NAC increased the value of grants awarded to $1.92 million, a 25% hike, the amount to be given to 16 arts companies, including Wild Rice, under its one-year Major Grant scheme.
With the sole exception of MediaCorp's daily freesheet Today, all daily newspapers including the flagship Straits Times are printed by Singapore Press Holdings, whose management shareholders are appointed by the government in accordance with the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974. While current shareholding structure does not imply direct governmental control on media content}, their active presence promotes self-censorship amongst journalists.
The Singapore Government said it is not ashamed of its low rank for press freedom because it has achieved top ratings for economic freedom and prosperity. Instead of subscribing to the Western press model, it believes that a non-adversarial press can report accurately and objectively. A recent Gallup poll found that 69% of Singaporeans trusted their media.
The MDA requires importers to "ensure that the publications/ audio materials brought in for distribution do not feature content which could be considered objectionable on moral, racial or religious grounds, or deemed detrimental to Singapore’s national interests". According to the MDA, more than 2 million publications and 300,000 audio materials are imported into Singapore each year under the Registered Importers Scheme.
Pornography is strictly prohibited in Singapore; this encompasses magazines such as Playgirl, Playboy or Penthouse. However, magazines which are deemed to contain "mature content" such as Cosmopolitan Magazine are free to be distributed at all stores with a "Unsuitable for the young" label on its cover.
Instances of print censorship
Manazine warned by MDA
Despite announcements in 2003 that Singapore would relax its censorship laws including lifting the 20-year ban on Cosmopolitan magazine, the Media Development Authority (MDA) warned a local men's magazine, Manazine, to tone down its "pro-gay" content and use of half-nude male bodies. According to Streats newspaper, MDA officials met with the publisher after their third issue was launched in February 2004 and warned him that "the current state of the magazine, which features nudity and homosexual content, is unacceptable." The MDA had considered an image of a bare-chested man, which accompanied a health and fitness article in its inaugural issue, published in October 2003 to be "too homosexual."
The MDA also brought up an article which quoted Beatrice Chia as saying, "why should we tolerate gays, we should accept them." Chia was directing the play Bent about the persecution of gays during the Holocaust during that time. Arjan Nijen Twilhaar, the magazine's publisher and chief editor said, "In MDA's view, this is perceived as promoting a gay lifestyle."
In August 2004, [[The Straits Times] reported that the MDA had received complaints by concerned parents about Manazine's homosexual content and easy availability. MDA's spokesperson added that the authority had reminded Twilhaar during another meeting on 11 August 2004 that local magazines should not promote homosexuality as a lifestyle. Manazine subsequently announced that the magazine would move from being a free pick-up zine to one that would only be sent to subscribers or available to card-carrying members at selected outlets.
Removal of gay-friendly children's books by National Library Board
- Main article: NLB saga
In July 2014, the National Library Board (NLB) removed three children's titles which contained homosexual references. One of the books, And Tango Makes Three, is about a male penguin couple raising a chick. Another, The White Swan Express, features two women, who are partners, adopting a baby. The episode led to two petitions - one for and the other against the decision. Some writers and academics showed their displeasure by dropping out of NLB-related events.
Ban of Archie comic for depicting gay marriage
An Archie comic book depicting same-sex marriage was banned from sale in Singapore after a complaint from a member of the public,. The National Library Board (NLB) subsequently reviewed its available copies. Graphic novelist Sonny Liew uncovered the restriction after writing to bookseller Kinokuniya on 10 July 2014. When queried, the MDA said it had assessed the comic in March 2014 after receiving a complaint and found it breached the guidelines with "its depiction of the same-sex marriage of two characters." It added, "The Publications Consultative Panel, which comprises a cross-section of (28 members from) Singapore society, was consulted. Its members advised that the theme of the comic was not in line with social norms and is in breach of existing content guidelines."
Internet services provided by the three major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are subject to regulation by the Media Development Authority (MDA) which has published an Internet Code of Practice for them to adhere to. Under the Section "Prohibited Material" of the Code of Practice, Section 4 (2)(e) states:
"whether the material advocates homosexuality or lesbianism, or depicts or promotes incest, paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia"
However, the MDA only blocks a "symbolic" number of websites containing "mass impact objectionable" material, including Playboy and YouPorn. In addition, the Ministry of Education blocks access to pornographic and similar objectionable Internet sites on its proxy servers. Nevertheless, the MDA adopts a "light-touch" approach in regulating the Internet, with minimal Internet filtering
Government agencies have been known to use or threaten to use litigation against bloggers and other Internet content providers. The first instance of such activity was against Sintercom in July 2001 when its openly gay founder, Dr. Tan Chong Kee, was asked to register the website under the nascent Singapore Broadcast Authority Act (now Media Development Authority). Dr. Tan chose to shutdown Sintercom due to concerns over the ambiguity of the Act.
In the last few years, the government has taken a much tougher stand on Internet-related matters, including censorship. Proposed amendments to the Penal Code intend to hold Internet users liable for "causing public mischief", and give the authorities broader powers in curtailing freedom of speech.
Instances of exhibition censorship
"Kissing" by Alex Au
In 2007, gay activist Alex Au's applied for a licence to hold an exhibition entitled, "Kissing", which featured 80 posed photographs of fully clothed people indulging in same-sex kissing,,. Au’s photographs were shot entirely with volunteers which he believed were mostly gay, lesbian or bisexual, but since he did not ask, there might even have been a few straight ones among them. They responded to his call because they wanted to contribute to a project that would enhance the visibility of same-sex affection in a country that is famously prohibitive about it.
However, Au's application was reject by the MDA on the grounds that the photos "promote a homosexual lifestyle." The news of the ban was reported both locally as well as internationally,,,,,,.
Amy Tsang, deputy director of media content, said in a statement that "Presently, homosexual content is allowed in the appropriate context but it should not be of a promotional or exploitative nature. The proposed exhibition ... which focuses mainly on homosexual kissing is deemed to promote a homosexual lifestyle, and cannot be allowed." She said, however, that authorities had previously allowed "brief same-sex kissing" in stage plays and adult-rated films.
The exhibition was to have been part of IndigNation 2007. In lieu of the banned exbition, Au prefaced a series of lectures with a slide show of the photographs instead, as indoor gatherings in Singapore did not require a permit.
On 19 January 2008, the photos were shown, in Melbourne as part of Midsumma, the city’s Pride celebrations, in conjunction with Royston Tan’s 15-minute short film Cut, which he made to lampoon the MDA after they refused to pass his feature film “15” uncut. The joint show, curated by Australian artist Garrie Maguire, aimed to inform Australian audiences about the highhandedness of Singapore's censors, particular in relation to gay-themed expression. As it turned out, by being banned, the exhibition became a statement about censorship as much as about gay equality. The exhibition was held at Dante’s Gallery and ran until 9 February 2008.
Singapore Art Museum removes gay porn magazines from Biennale installation
An installation at the 2011 Singapore Biennale by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara containing gay pornographic magazines was altered by the Singapore Art Museum without the artist's consent,,. Fujiwara had converted a gallery in the museum into a Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, barrels of wine and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling. But a row of the magazines which were placed on top of a cupboard behind the bar counter and another magazine that was placed under a Spanish newspaper at the gallery's entrance were removed.
In the Pink
The very first Pink Picnic, officially titled "In the Pink", at Palm Valley next to Symphony Lake in the Botanic Gardens was organised by Miak Siew as part of the third annual IndigNation in 2007, Singapore's LGBT pride month. According to sources, Thio Li-Ann got wind of the event from PLU's website and alerted the National Parks Board, which resulted in its ban,.
The idea was for people to come to the picnic held on National Day wearing something pink - it was both a colour representing sexual orientation as well as an amalgamation of Singapore's red and white. The complaint went to the police and even up to the Deputy Prime Minister's office. The Botanic Gardens was told to look out for anyone wearing pink, and if 5 or more persons gathered, the Gardens were call the police immediately because it would constitute an unlawful assembly. The organisers had no choice but to cancel the event.
Before the cancellation, there was not much enthusiasm for the picnic, but now that the authorities had stepped in, lots of people wanted to go. An announcement that the event had been cancelled was made by PLU but people just used word of mouth to say that they would unofficially be going to have a private picnic with their friends at the Gardens dressed in pink...and thus, the (unofficial) Pink Picnic was born!
Early Saturday morning on 11 August 2007, just before the start of the Pink Run, an IndigNation 2007 event, would-be participants noticed about 10 plainclothes policemen lurking in the background. One of them, who identified himself as Kelvin Yeo, informed the organiser, Dr. Ethan Lim of ADLUS, that the run would be considered an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Lim asked him to cite the specific section, but Yeo was unable to do so, saying instead that it would be considered an illegal assembly.
At some point, Ng Yi-Sheng, one of the runners, walked up to join Ethan Lim, to act as a witness to the conversation but was shooed away by the police. Since the police had declared it an illegal assembly, Ethan Lim told Kelvin Yeo he would cancel the Pink Run, "but as individuals, they can run, right?"
Both Yeo and a female officer beside him replied affirmatively. Lim then went back to the main group and told them what had transpired. The Pink Run was officially cancelled, but as individuals, they could run as they pleased. All 39 present elected to do so. They left their bags and other belongings with a volunteer whose role was to watch over them, and started off in staggered subgroups. Meanwhile, the police continued filming, and didn't stop until the entire group had come back to the starting point about half an hour later.
As one can see from the photo, many wore pink. In fact, they had printed more T-shirts than they needed, so Ethan Lim gave one to Kelvin Yeo as a souvenir.
Denial of gay censorship by the Government
Lee Kuan Yew
On 4 October 2007, during Nanyang Technological University's Ministerial Forum, the then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, in response to a query from a female English language undergraduate, replied that there was no censorship of art depicting homosexuality in Singapore. He was obviously unaware of the numerous instances of censorship by the Media Development Authority described above.
Reaction to gay censorship
Human rights and artistic freedom activists who oppose censorship have started movements campaigning against its use by the State.
Arts Engage is a network of arts practitioners from various disciplines coming together to discuss the policies that govern and impact their respective practices. Started by members of the Arts Community e-group, Arts Engage is intended to be used by stakeholders who wish to engage in issues of art practice, such as censorship, funding, spaces, intellectual property, making a living as an artist, position of art/artists in society, etc., in a more focused manner. Interested parties may join the Arts Engage news list on Yahoo! Groups:
Let Me Decide
- I am responsible for my morals and values, not the censor.
- If I’m not the best judge of what is “appropriate” for me, what makes the censors think they are better?
- And why do they claim they are “protecting” us, when they are harming Singapore’s development into a global city—and assaulting my right to judge for myself?
- It’s time to say thanks but no thanks to censorship. It’s time to let me decide.
Free My Internet
The Free My Internet movement was set up by a group of leading bloggers and activists in Singapore as a coordinated response to the new ruling announced by the Government via MDA licencing in 2013 that effectively gave it sweeping controls over who and what it wanted to go after online if they perceived that “prohibited” news or comments had been made. The movement kicked off with a protest on Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 4pm at Hong Lim Park. A petition calling on the MDA to withdraw the licensing regulations for online “news” sites was also organised.
- Arts Entertainment Licence, MDA:.
- The Media Development Authority's Content Guidelines for Imported Publications (2009)[http:// bit[dot]ly/1mR2dLR].
- Media Development Authority
- Censorship in Singapore - IFEX
- Undated Centre Street Broadcast in which Martyn See and others discuss the film Singapore Rebel
- The 3 tiers of censorship in Singapore, a review of censorship laws and practices. (5 November 2009)
- Ng Yi-Sheng's compilation of cases of censorship in Singapore in his blog "the paradise of flowers and fruit":.
- Alfian Sa'at's list of cases of censorship from 1995 to 2004 in his blog "Diaryland":.
- The Chiongs, "Mainstream media and gay people in Singapore [Post Straits Times Interview]", Facebook, 28 January 2011,
- Elisia Yeo, "Local gays, foreign gays", TODAY, 4 July 2003.
- Jeanine Tan, "More action less cut", TODAY, 4 November 2005.
- Alex Au, "Film censors behaving like bullies", Yawning Bread, 29 August 2009.
- Alex Au, "Film censorship correspondence, part 2", Yawning Bread, 9 November 2009.
- Alex Au, "Film censorship correspondence, part 1", Yawning Bread, 14 September 2009.
- Alex Au, "Film censors behaving like bullies", Yawning Bread, 29 August 2009.
- Alex Au, "Incredible wife makes disappearing act", Yawning Bread, February 2007.
- "Mediacorp censors pro-gay speech, again", People Like Us, 29 February 2008.
- "New rule on R21 content reflects changing media landscape", The Straits Times, 20 July 2016.
- Boon Chan, "You can now watch R21 movies on pay-TV", The Straits Times, 20 October 2012.
- Grace Chua, "Starhub to offer R21 movies on pay-TV", The Straits Times, 14 January 2013.
This article was written by Roy Tan.