Week 3 Online Lecture
This pair of online lectures have been enlightening about the embedded ideology and power structure hidden within data classification.
One example that came to mind was MDA policy of content regulation for all media, ranging from videos and games, movies, tv show, publication materials, to radio. For brevity, I am going to focus on MDA’s classification policy for movies.
MDA justifies their classification as allowing films to be suitably rated for different audiences so the public can have greater access to a wider range of media choices without compromising on the need to protect young children from undesirable content (x).
Directors who are unsatisfied with the ratings of their films can appeal to the Film Advisory Committee (FAC), who are “chosen for their interest in films and commitment to public service and represent a cross-section of society and age groups.”
The FAC holds the final say in the film rating classification, a decision that overrules the MDA. However, a quick rundown of its members (x) is produces surprising insights. Considering the clout FAC has over the fate of films, it has negligible number of people in the arts community on its panel, people who are business insider and people who can champion for the film industry.
I would like to answer first two questions posed during lecture: How do we decide which information is relevant to a topic and which we can ignore? How do we decide how to divide up this information?
From the MDA case study, the regulators are the ones deciding which information is relevant to a topic, and what information to ignore. Some factors taken into consideration when rating films are its theme, content, presentation, impact, violence, sex, nudity, language, drug and substance abuse, and horror. While its framework appear sound, how it translate into reality is questionable. With vague terms like “theme”, and “impact”, it gives the advisor plenty of leeway to justify ratings deemed unacceptable by the public.
Many controversial film ratings are films running counter to the official Singapore narrative — a story of rags to riches headed by the wise management of government and the hard work of its people. The most prominent film would be To Singapore With Love, who received an NAR rating, Not Allowed For All Rating; and the recent 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy, a documentary on detainees arrested in 1987 over an alleged Marxist plot in Singapore, who got an R21 rating.
The regulators felt that both films depict a skewed portrayal of the events that conspired, a “one-sided account that could lead people who are not in the know to see the acts of violence and subversion as justified for achieving political ends in Singapore”. Their decision was final despite the public’s cry for To Singapore With Love to be screened in Singapore. It is clear that the ultimate power in film classification lies in the regulators and the advisory committee, they are the ones determining how to divide these information and what information to ignore.
With these in mind, what are the implications of these decisions?
For the film industry, it is likely to promote a higher level of self-censorship. Film producers invest money, time, and effort into their work, and receiving unexpected rating would be detrimental to their finances. Tan could not even air her work in Singapore, denying her from recouping her investment in the film. By giving ratings excluding certain demographics, there is naturally a smaller consumer pool, resulting in lower profits. The hassle of appealing for review also wastes precious resources, serving as a deterrence for people to produce movies that they feel the regulators will find unsuitable. This will create a climate of fear, resulting in people engaging in self-censorship and refusing to push the boundaries. The regulators’ tight control over the films’ content is also disheartening for the film industry. If filmmakers feel that they are unable to exercise their creative rights in Singapore, they might leave the film industry, leaving us with less local talents to boost our creative arts scene.
For the public, the lack of alternative point of view would mean the public would never be able to critically assess and understand Singapore’s past. For a young country who is still struggling with her identity, the lack of engagement with our history is troubling. History will repeat itself if nobody learns from it, and how can we learn if we cannot access our past? The paternalistic way of treating Singaporeans, an increasingly educated bunch of people, also erodes the trust between the state and its people.
Like what prof mentioned, data classification, no matter how neutral, is inflected by ideology, politics, and opinion. It is a messy system with many opposing ideals and voices. There is a need to re-examine our assumptions and evidence, having conversation with all the invisible boundaries that is denying our opportunity to grow as one nation.