Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Censorship Review Committee focus group afterthoughts

The following is my email to the Censorship Review Committee (CRC) following the focus group they organised, and of which I am part.


Thanks for organising the focus group.

There are a few more points I would like to make.

I find it ironic that we are striving to establish one set of regulations, codes and practices for a country of multiple and heterogeneous values. So, ultimately, I feel it is important to account for and state whose values actually dictate the CRC proposals and recommendations.

Are parents the only stakeholders whose opinions hold more weight? I believe that policy should not take up the parenting mantle, because you have media consumers of different backgrounds and values. Instead of blanket implementation with regards to content regulation and censorship, I feel the CRC can propose a co-regulation that involves active participation of parents who dare to be responsible for their children, as well as educational materials to empower not only parents, but children too. Parents and schools can already teach their children their own notions of right and wrong, and the media should resist the temptation to be paternalistic.

With co-regulation, we actually act like we are truly a multi-valued society – we give options. For parents who feel their children are sufficiently well-adjusted, they can do without top-down content regulation and censorship. Parents can be told they have the choice to take up the filters offered by ISPs.

Does the CRC subscribe to archaic media theories that propound the one-way relationship between all-powering influential media and cultural dopes that are viewers?

We may be influenced by legal and cultural norms where children are deemed incapable of being accountable, responsible, making proper decisions and giving consent. However, these children live in the same socio-technological environment we are living in, and are cultivated with some degree of information literacy.

I’m sure the CRC was formed because it would be in a better position compared to the relative inflexibilities in action and mindset of the governmental bodies for media regulation and the industry. I urge the CRC to be bold and be the first to step forward with proposals that champion media and information literacy. The CRC is not obliged to follow any body’s agenda and rhetoric.

With regards to the focus group, I refer to 2 issues discussed.

Chinese dialects in programming. I feel we should allow for various Chinese dialects, other than Mandarin, to be part of programming. We should not let “multiculturalism” be determined by the government, and I am confident the CRC understands that it is and should remain independent of the government. These dialects neither harm any one nor destroy the sacred social fabric of our society.

Portrayal of homosexuality. It is shocking to find out that the chairman of the CRC said that it would be a progressive step to allow for positive portrayals of homosexuality. I find it is merely a correction of the intolerance that run through the veins of media policy-makers.

It is unethical and bigoted to decree the illegality of positive portrayals of any minorities in our society. The media has a role to truthfully portray society and should not distort reality with denigrating stereotypes and negative portrayals. I don’t know what is more offensive: the media depiction of a happy gay couple or the intolerant mindset of policy-makers who feel these bunch of people are less human.

If the CRC and MDA ever want to invoke the rhetoric of “values” or “Asian values” in our society, I urge you to do some research on these values, and also shed light on your rendition of “values”. Are these values predominantly middle class ethnic Chinese Singaporean Christians of higher education disguised and marketed as universal?

“Asian values” has its roots in East Asian economics and politics, a political rhetoric in response to American (therefore Western) concerns of paternalistic and authoritarian political regimes, and interventionism in various economic domains and industries. It is only in the 1990s that “Asian values” took on the meanings associated with sexual morality, as inserted by the ruling elite, which coincidentally comprised persons who subscribe to a Christian middle-class worldview. Surely the positive depictions of homosexuality will not lead to people becoming homosexual.

The comparison with violence is different too and whatever studies you may believe to substantiate these are all archaic and do not account for other variables such as cultural, historical and economic factors. Similarly, for instance, the positive portrayal of Hinduism in free-to-air channels will not result in a widespread conversion to Hinduism by all Singaporeans.

What is ironic is that these conservative views and values are derived from the American conservative Christian movement that swept through Singapore from the 1980s onwards and have come to fruition.

So instead of using an abstract concept to justify non-action or a uber-conservative stance that somehow appeals to a citizenry of a specific demography, I feel the CRC should step forward and make the change, because it is in a better position for change. The government is conservative and they cannot be faulted for that, and the industry is set in their ways because of some degree of governmental influence too.

There are also stakeholders in people who are vocal enough to invoke the illusion of a “conservative moral majority” to bargain their stake, although the idea of a “moral majority” is rather loose in a multi-valued Singapore. I urge the CRC to go horizontal and not only prime media as the singular critical variable of policy.

If media content regulation and censorship involves putting the microscope on media and practices, the CRC would have failed from the beginning. The efforts of media regulation dovetail with education and the making of clearer distinctions in political and regulatory rhetoric, such as “values” and “majority”.

The easy way out would be to siphon and funnel our diversity into one singular set of regulations and practices that benefit a certain demographic more than another.

I wish you guys all the best. My recommendations are for not a change in your paradigm and approach, but for some reflexivity towards your subjectivity, context and methodology.

Ho Chi Sam