Censorship Review Committee
by Siew, Sara
The Censorship Review Committee (CRC) is a government-appointed committee that reviews and makes recommendations regarding Singapore’s censorship policies. First convened in 1991, 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.1
The six-member committee that produced the Jayakumar Report of 1981 may be thought of as a predecessor to the CRC, considering that it enunciated Singapore’s censorship objectives and principles. Appointed by the government and headed by S. Jayakumar, the then Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, the committee had the task of reviewing the censorship of films and publications.2
The Jayakumar Report took a slow and cautious approach to censorship, highlighting the need for the maintenance of racial harmony, protection of the young, and preservation of moral fibre and Asian values – elements that the CRC would later continue to uphold. The committee proclaimed that it saw no need for major changes to the existing censorship guidelines for films. However, it did suggest greater flexibility in censorship so as to take into account context and theme as well as the different impact of different media. It also recommended the creation of advisory committees to give the public a say in the censorship process.3
Inaugural CRC 1991
The first CRC was appointed in May 1991, with ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh as chairman. In reviewing censorship policies and practices, the committee considered written submissions from individuals and organisations, in addition to having discussions with stakeholder organisations.4 It also commissioned a survey of moral values and attitudes towards certain printed, audio and visual materials, and found that Singaporeans were largely conservative. For instance, most of the respondents did not approve of lowering the age limit of R(A) films from 21 to 18.5
The committee upheld the need to protect the young, maintain social harmony and preserve general moral values. It acknowledged that different media had different levels of impact. For instance, it made a distinction between images and words, and hence supported the ban on image-rich publications such as Playboy and Penthouse but suggested lifting the ban on Cosmopolitan, a women’s magazine with mainly text. It also noted that there should be stricter standards for media that are easily accessible by the masses, such as television. However, artistic, literary and educational merits were recognised as factors to consider during censorship, with possibly more leeway given to works that possessed such value. The committee advocated more public involvement in the censorship process. One suggestion was the creation of advisory panels from members of the public to assist with appeals relating to publications and plays.6
The second CRC was appointed in April 2002, headed by Liu Thai Ker, then chairman of the National Arts Council. The 22-member committee was faced with a new and challenging landscape. With globalisation, society was being exposed to diverse ideas, influences and lifestyles from around the world, and thus would likely demand more choices. In addition, technological advancement was opening up many new media formats and channels that allowed easier access to content.7
The report was published on September 2003. Although the committee was open to greater change, they did not recommend radical proposals as feedback from the public showed that most Singaporeans were satisfied with the existing censorship guidelines.
In view of that, some of the key changes proposed by the committee were the relaxation of rules for adults, giving them more choices and access to content previously unavailable, such as the Sex and the City television series; and reversal on the ban of the magazine Cosmopolitan. The committee also emphasised the importance of parental guidance and consumer advice for content that is easily accessed by the young. One way of executing this was through a tetrapartite formula through which regulators, industry players, the community and artists could work together synergistically in the censorship process.8
In May 2009, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) announced that a mid-term CRC would be convened to review and update censorship policies. It explained that a review was required short of the 10-year interval because of the need for the relevant agencies to keep pace with the rapidly changing media and social landscape.9 The CRC was led by Goh Yew Lin, chairman of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and deputy chairman of Singapore Symphonia Company. Together with 16 other representatives, the CRC focused largely on issues raised by industry players during their regular dialogue with the Media Development Authority. The review would also explore if new content codes were required to regulate new media platforms and emerging technologies.10
The principles of the review continued to be guided by societal norms and values, and maintenance of racial and religious harmony. The intent of regulation was to provide more choices to meet the diverse interests of the people, and to work towards classification and co-regulation rather than censorship. It also highlighted that content regulation is a shared responsibility between regulators, parents, the public, and the industry.
The report was published on 15 September 2010. MICA accepted about 80 percent of the recommendations. Several significant changes included the harmonisation of content ratings across different media platforms; the introduction of PG13 rating for films; and calibrated access of R21 films for video-on-demand platforms. A term licensing scheme was to be implemented to provide arts groups more autonomy on making final decisions on arts appeals. While the 100-website ban (banned websites comprising undesirable subjects such as racial and religious intolerance as well as terrorism and extremism) would continue to be retained, it was to be supplemented with an Internet filtering service, so as to enable parents and adults to limit access to undesirable content by the young.
The government said that it would continue to strive to strike a balance between content regulation and evolving societal values, and norms. The changes to content regulation would evolve and would do so at a pace that society is comfortable with.11
Sara Siew & Shereen Tay
1. Panel set up to review changes to censorship policies. (1991, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Communications and Information. (2009, May 22). Mid-term Censorship Review Committee to be appointed [Press Release]. Retrieved 2016, June 6 from Ministry of Communications and Information website: http://www.mci.gov.sg/web/corp/press-room/categories/press-releases/content/midterm-censorship-review-committee-to-be-appointed
2. Ministry gets report by review board. (1982, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Seah, R. (1982, April 26). Some gradual easing of censorship. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1982, April 3). Speech by Mr S Jayakumar, Minister of State (Law and Home Affairs) at the 22nd Annual Dinner and Dance of the Singapore Medical Association at the Shangri-la Hotel on Sunday, 25 April 1982 at 7.30pm (pp. 2‒7). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. Panel set up to review changes to censorship policies. (1991, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Soh, F. (1992, August 4). Singaporeans voice firm “no” to liberal values. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, T. T. B. (1992). Censorship review committee report 1992. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (Call no.: RSING 363.31095957 SIN); George, C. (1992, October 18); Tougher stand on films and TV. The Straits Times, p. 1; Censorship principles should include artistic merit. (1992, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Tan, T. H. (2002, May 13). Censorship panel to review fundamentals. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Liu, T. K. (2003). Report of censorship review committee 2003. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (Call no.: RSING 363.31095957 SIN); Yong, S. C. (2003, September 5). No big leap forward. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Oon, C. (2009, May 22). Coming up: Review of censorship rules. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Communications and Information. (2009, May 22). Mid-term Censorship Review Committee to be appointed [Press Release]. Retrieved 2016, June 6 from Ministry of Communications and Information website: http://www.mci.gov.sg/web/corp/press-room/categories/press-releases/content/midterm-censorship-review-committee-to-be-appointed
10. Goh Yew Lin named censorship panel head. (2009, September 25). The Business Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ministry of Communications and Information. (2010, September 29). The Government's response to the Censorship Review Committee's recommendations [Press Release]. Retrieved 2016, June 6 from Ministry of Communications and Information website: http://www.mci.gov.sg/web/corp/press-room/categories/speeches/content/the-governments-response-to-the-censorship-review-committees-recommendations; Report of Censorship Review Committee 2010. (2010). Censorship Review Committee Secretariat. (Call no.: RSING 363.31095957 SIN); Loh, G. (2010, September 22). Looking forward to changes. Today, p. 66. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Changes after 1991 review. (2000, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Mak, M. S. (2004, September 3). Cosmopolitan back after 22-year ban. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2 August 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.