Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feedback and Recommendations to CRC 2009

The following is an email sent to the Censorship Review Committee, which had asked the public for feedback and recommendations. The points are a bit random and disorganised though. But I'll still reproduce it here. Email was sent Dec 10.


It is a great idea that there is an avenue for the members of the public to get involved in the CRC 2009. I write to you as a Communications and New Media Masters student who is an advocate of media literacy.

1. I hope the committee is critically aware of emerging media and new media trends, as well as contentious and/or archaic media theories.
Co-regulation is the viable mode of media governance for now, as all relevant stakeholders share the responsibility in media. However, this domain is not impervious to the development of new media, social media and emerging info-communication technological trends. I feel the job of the CRC is not to censor or be over-zealous in enforcing a censorship regime in Singapore. It will only alienate younger, media-savvy media consumers from mainstream media platforms. There is unfortunately no single magical solution, but I advise the CRC to respectfully acknowledge that while we are multi-cultural and multi-religious, we are even more multi-valued and heterogeneously diverse in opinion. The incessant mentioning of 'multi-cultural' and 'multi-religious' is just empty talk when you fail to realise the fundamental diversity of opinion and values and their implications on society and media content. The governance of media should then be pluralistic and segmented according to variables such as the time of broadcast, the modes/channels of broadcast, degree of accessibility, etc.

I also hope the CRC will consider the extent to which media theories (from experts) are conflicting. Some theories may propound that what you consume may sensitise or desensitise you, which may not always be the case. When you watch the positive portrayal of a happy gay couple shopping, you will not become gay the very next minute; when you watch violent movies, you do not become violent immediately, because we already have anti-violent social norms and legal norms to regulate Singaporean behaviour. That said, the study of media should not be isolated to media itself, and it definitely should not inform the decisions of the CRC 2009.

2. I hope that members of the CRC 2009 will be able to confront and reconcile with their pre-existing biases and prejudices prior to passing any proposal, paper or release.
This will safeguard the interests of the CRC 2009 from, to just name one example, the imposing values of middle class ethnic Chinese person with Christian imperialist ideas.

3. I hope the committee will be sensitive and respectful towards sexual minorities in Singapore.
Apparently, the mainstream portrayal of sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people) have consist of demeaning stereotypes and misrepresentations, and they are presented as frivolous and condemned. Heads will roll if the same treatment was given to ethnic minorities or specific religious identities. I hope the CRC 2009 will not uncritically use the hollow rhetoric of 'mainstream values', because we live in a Singapore that is heterogeneous, and no single group has exclusive ownership of the definition of 'mainstream values'. It is because this rhetoric has gone unchecked over the years, that media content regulation/governance is always a step behind societal developments. At the same time, I hope the CRC 2009 is also critically aware of the potential over-representation of fairly-educated and vocal conservative ethnic Chinese Christian Singaporeans in the governance of media. That said, is middle-class ethnic Chinese values more a 'mainstream values' than working class ethnic Malay?

The CRC 2009 should not cave in to homophobic discourses that label non-heterosexual identities as lifestyles and that positive media representations of gay people as glorification and endorsement. Clearly, an educated mind would be able to see this rhetoric as derived from conservative Christian discourse. If the stand is against promiscuity, by all means state it. Media content has an impact of society, and I hope the decisions made by the CRC 2009 will be not only for national harmony, but for the distribution of proper information, the debunking of myths and stereotypes, as well as the fostering of a more equal Singapore. The media obviously has a role to play, because a large portion of our lives is built on stereotypes, falsities and hearsays.

4. I hope there will be a greater push for media literacy among the younger Singaporeans.
This will empower the consumers in the consumption and interpretation of information and media content. The government and the industry can only do so much, but governance is incomplete without an empowered and informed media consumer. I believe that our censorship regime has long been founded on the impression that Singaporeans are media illiterate cultural dopes, hence the idea of the need for more regulation and censorship (and hence why we even use the word "censorship"). The dynamics of media governance will change when we first recognise the emerging trend of media literacy, and later push for better media literacy across the board for Singaporeans. State censorship, industry censorship, self-censorship, authority filters will never be as efficient in governance as the cultivation of media literacy among media consumers. This arrests the problem with media censorship. I hope the CRC will push for greater media literacy in Singapore - more media literacy programmes, courses, material, etc.

5. I hope the methodology of the CRC research is revised.
You need more focus groups, instead of surveys comprising a sample allegedly 'representative' of Singapore.
Remember, the CRC is not in the business of making every Singaporean happy, but to ensure a censorship regime that will not impede the social, cultural and artistic development of Singapore. Go plural, not total. Have focus groups with specific groups of media consumers, by age, race/ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity/orientation, political convictions, degree of media savvy, and so on. The existing survey methodology, which obviously includes the tokenistic participation of certain racial and religious minorities, is insufficient, and will probably give you a reflection of Singaporean society only to a certain degree. What's the point of finding answers when the foundations of your question are shaky?

6. Stop censorsing of R21 films.
It is simply and utterly ridiculous that rated R21 films are censored, which defeats the purpose of classification. The classification system already segments and excludes certain age categories from consumption. Please review that. If you want the help the industry, you should definitely release uncut R21 films, otherwise the media savvy Singaporeans will turn to free alternative platforms for their entertainment. Remember, you are complicit in the media economy and it's decline. If you choose to view censorship in isolation, i.e. the relationship between content and the rhetoric of 'consumer values', and ignore new media trends, the proposals you make may bankrupt the industry.

7. Allow Singlish and Chinese dialects.
I believe that Singlish and Chinese dialects can co-exist with English and Mandarin in the mainstream media. If we truly want to be multi-cultural, I think we should not be subservient to the PAP government's definition of multiculturalism. There is nothing shameful with Singlish in our media.

Thank you for reading my feedback. I wish the committee well.

Sam Ho