MDA comes under fire from Theatre of Fire

The Media Development Authority of Singapore’s  (MDA) censorship of the arts has become an unbearable joke today.

We applied for a public entertainment licence for the play SMEGMA, written and directed by Elangovan (bilingual poet-playwright-director) a month ago to the MDA for censorship vetting.

I called the MDA on Tue 1 Aug afternoon at about after 2pm to find out about the licence.

I was told that MDA has approved the licence and it was ready for collection.

About half an hour later, I received a call from an MDA officer saying that the licence was not ready and they were still processing.

When I asked her whether it was a joke and also added that I would go the media, she immediately did a full roundabout and said that the licence was ready and we could collect it.

We collected the black & white approved licence document from MDA at 4.55 pm on Tue 1 Aug 06 after paying them S$20 by NETS at the counter.

The conditions in the licence were as expected- RA18 with advisory: ‘The play is Rated RA18. The play contains strong language and adult themes that may be objectionable to some members of the public. The advisory must be reflected in all publicity materials.’

Today, at about 2.30 pm, I received a call from an MDA official who did not reveal her name.

She informed me that the licence which MDA issued to our group Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) for the play SMEGMA has been cancelled.

She did not give any reasons and I demanded for a written letter.

She said that MDA would follow up.

Meanwhile, MDA had a press conference for the local media at 3 pm at its premises to inform that they had cancelled the licence issued for the play SMEGMA.

The script of SMEGMA was given to the press members for private reading and collected back.

I finally received a letter by fax today from Ms Amy Tsang, confirming the cancellation of our licence with the following reasons:

Para1. Further to our teleconversation today, we would like to inform you that the Media Development Authority (MDA) is cancelling the arts entertainment licence No: 005/08/2006 issued on 1 Aug 2006 for the play ‘SMEGMA’.

Para 2. After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society, and may negatively impact upon our bilateral relations with our neighbours.

Para 3.The play portrays Muslims in a negative light. Two playlets featuring Muslim terrorists are also provocative in view of the increased tension in the Middle east.

Para 4. In view of this, MDA has decided not to let the play be staged.

After the above fax, I received a call from MDA saying that they would be faxing another letter soon and it would supercede the fax sent earlier.

I received the final fax at 5.29 pm with a cover letter saying – “Please ignore the earlier letter on the above subject which we had faxed to you before 5 pm today. The attached supercedes the previous letter.”

Now, this fax had only one para (para 2) to give a reason for the cancellation:

Para 2: After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society, and portrays Muslims in a negative light.”

Paragraph 2 from the earlier letter disapperaed and paragraph 2 has been amended.

Elangovan’s TALAQ faced a different sort of problem in OCT 2000 from the then PELU of the Police. The licence was not issued and the whole situation ended in a fiasco, that led to a relook at the censorship laws for plays in Singapore.

But now, six years later, the esteemed MDA has created a mess for a small minority theatre group, by issuing the licence and then cancelling the licence, and also changing their reasons for the cancellation, the same day.

MDA had a month to vet the play. They claim on their website that they would usually vet a play and respond after two weeks.

MDA had sufficient time to vet the play and inform us.

We would have made the necessary amendments if MDA had informed us earlier.

What’s wrong with the Censorship panel of MDA and its super-efficient officers?

Why are MDA officers behaving like this?

Why cancel the licence on the eve of our production, which is tomorrow and Sunday?

If MDA had cancelled the licence much earlier, we would not have proceeded with our production.

We would have saved our finances but now we have lost so much.

It only confirms that liberalisation of the arts in Singapore  is just lip-service of the 66.6% powers that be.

What happened to us (worse than the TALAQ incident in 2000) may happen to fellow artistes in this country.

With the National Day celebrations to glorify nation-building next week, and the IMF meeting in September, what Freedom of Expression are we talking about in Singapore?

It is a painful joke.

Grateful if you would globalise this Singapore Joke.

Thank you.

S Thenmoli (Ms)

Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)

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