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13 Jun 2008

Switching channels as the world gets married

A censorship manager with Singapore's largest free-to-air channel warns that "(e)ven a cooking show can be dangerous" as just one remark can "normalise (the) gay lifestyle." Meanwhile, Singapore's newly appointed Attorney-General warns of human rights "fanatics."

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Every now and then, there's a story in Fridae about this and that being censored in Singapore, particularly on television. Similar grouses are increasingly being carried on many other blogs and forums, and as digital speech assumes a greater part of information intake for the average guy, these complaints are now harder for media companies to ignore.

TV broadcaster Mediacorp's print magazine 8 Days recently carried an interview with Channel 5's Senior Censorship Manager David Christie in attempt to explain themselves.

In the interview, Christie reminds readers that the government's Media Development Authority (MDA) issues a code of conduct, but "they are broad strokes" and "does not give you specific directions."

So how does Channel 5 interpret those board strokes? He pleads for understanding, saying, "It's really not easy."

"There are some shows like Brothers & Sisters where one of the main cast is gay, and The O.C. where two characters were lesbians in Season 2... How do you keep it running when there are strong gay issues?"

In the end, "we put such series on late nights and put up viewer advisories after making necessary edits."

How slick he was, to slip in "after making necessary edits" right at the end. So yes, as demanded by the government, cuts are made.

He still pleads for mercy from those who would bay for his blood for being the government's henchman. His job is very hard, he says, as "The bulk of Ch 5's shows are from the West where alternative lifestyle is so advanced."

Every second of every film must be reviewed carefully lest something slips through but gets noticed by some homophobe viewer with nothing better to do than to write letters of complaint.

"Even a cooking show can be dangerous," Christie said. "A guy could say something like, 'I'm cooking this for my boyfriend tonight.' We die, you know! What that one remark does is normalise gay lifestyle." And which can lead to a hefty fine by the MDA for breaching their sacred, yet highly anal, code.

Nowhere in his interview does he mention the possibility of Mediacorp taking the MDA to court. Each time Mediacorp, despite censoring their own shows, is hauled up by the Authority for some oversight, infringement or other, they just bend over and pay the fine.

Of course, this is not surprising since Mediacorp, as a 100% government-owned entity, would hardly have a Board of Directors with the balls to mount a court challenge.

In any case, given Singapore's political context, the chance of success is widely believed to be infinitesimally low. Despite the government's claims, the rule of law here is at best imperfect, if not altogether absent in some areas. The government gets extremely prickly about court challenges, and Singapore's legal tradition is quite devoid of examples where anyone has successfully won the right to freedom of speech.

Human rights "fanatics"

Its prickliness was well exhibited recently when the Attorney-General, professor Walter Woon, said in a speech that human rights was "now a religion among some people."

The May 30 edition of Today newspaper quoted him as saying: "You have, like in some religions, the fanatics. And it's all hypocrisy and fanaticism (for these people) to set the views, as the leading spokesmen, of what is acceptable and what's not."

He was probably referring to the government's opponents from the Singapore Democratic Party who have accused the government of many human rights violations, but nonetheless the dismissive way in which he referred to anyone who believed strongly in the importance of human rights would remind all Singaporeans that this government is highly suspicious of any dissent from this front.

More ominously, he appeared to rule out judicial review over any executive decision when he said, "There are many people who think if a decision is made and they don't like it, then this is something the law can correct. There is a line between a political decision and a legal decision."

Just in case any gay person shrugs this off thinking he was only speaking about the Singapore Democratic Party's tactics, it should be worth noting Today's report that Prof Woon also spoke more broadly. He reportedly voiced his disapproval of advocates framing same-sex marriage as an issue of human rights. "Is this a question of human rights?" he asked rhetorically.

Indeed it is curious that out of the blue, the Attorney-General would even mention same-sex marriage as an issue and do so in a way that sought to preemptively invalidate any court challenge. Singapore hasn't yet repealed its colonial-era law against homosexual sex, and nowhere in the republic's public forums has gay marriage found traction as an issue.

The most likely reason why it was top of mind for the Attorney-General must be the California Supreme Court decision on May 15 legalising same-sex marriage in the state. His mention of this subject in his speech betrays the big headache anticipated by the Singapore government.

California is a heavyweight economy. Singapore has broad and deep economic links with it, as well as people flow. Its latest court verdict both signifies and accelerates a trend that goes right across the United States, the superpower that is crucial to Singapore's trade, investment and security concerns.

As expectations and aspirations of gay Americans and even gay Singaporeans keep rising, the gap between what they expect by right and what the Singapore government is prepared to offer (only minimal enforcement of the anti-gay law) widens by the day.

This aspirational gap will undermine Singapore's attractiveness to investors and expatriates, and even to Singapore's own footloose citizens. For a government whose entire legitimacy has been built on economic success, such dark clouds on the horizon can cause sleepless nights.

But as yet, they have no answer, except to threaten anyone who is even contemplating a judicial challenge. They want to stay still even as the world moves on. The guy cooking on television for his boyfriend has to be censored, while elsewhere in the wide world, the boyfriend is fast becoming husband.

Singapore

Reader's Comments

1. 2008-06-13 21:49  
A great read. I hope advances elsewhere in the world help catalyse change in s/e asia. Having one of the most astutue gay websites in the world is bound to help, keep up the good work.
2. 2008-06-14 00:48  
Someone pointed out previously that the Singapore free to air code doesn't actually ban "normalisation" of gays, just glamorisation, justification etc.

So if that's the case, and stations are being fined for comments mentioning gay things in passing, then those fines would possibly be a prime candidate, as a mistake of law, to be corrected by a judge in a judicial review application.
3. 2008-06-14 01:50  
Geez! By now you would think Singapore would be more modern. Is it a religious group that leads up the censoring of tv and movies there?

Jay
San Francisco, CA
Comment #4 was deleted by its author
5. 2008-06-14 08:59  
I don't believe people in power there are ignorant of their abuses. I've said this a million times. Singapore does things its ways regardless because it can and will continue to do so; until such times when a new governance takes over.

Like what the government there always tell its people- "Be grateful. Other countries are at war, poor, natural calamities...blah blah blah...be thankful for this & that."

So be grateful Singaporeans if u managed to sneak in bootleg copies of Brothers and Sisters, Will & Grace, etc or , or, even watching many many "banned" shows on YouTube. Very soon, if we are bored enough, we may even regulate the internet. No joke. :)
6. 2008-06-14 08:59  
Clearly many laws in Singapore ARE & always will be uniquely flawed.

St8 couples can sodomise & "kara-ok" each other legally cos the sancitity of their normal relationship would not deviate from the course of them being still a normal couple..Prof Thio's argument in S377A saga (the gist of it anyways). But it is illegal for men to do like wise. Law or blatant public discrimination?

If your maid runs away, gets pregnant outside, commits a crime, moonlights...etc...you the employer forfeits the $5000 maid levy with the goverment cos the maid IS the employer's responsibility, even though the employer did NOT do anything or have any control over another person's actions.
Mas Selamat escapes from detention & the PM says he cannot sack the Home Minister responsible for the joke of a blatant security lapse because the latter has NO control over the situation. Go figure.
7. 2008-06-14 09:48  
I think MediaCrap's David Christie is taking his job WAY too zealously. Looks like he's a self-appointed *moral* guardian in addition to being a corporate one. Great job pointing out this hypocrisy carried in one of the most mainstream local pop magazines!
8-Days has been increasingly homophobic of late, for anyone still picking it up. I noticed more than a few trite throwaway same-sex jokes since early this year, in the movie reviews, celeb gossip, TV guide, last page.. everywhere.
8. 2008-06-14 10:53  
The spate of ridiculous media censorship incidences in Singapore reminds me so much of the similarly ridiculousness of the religious police in Malaysia where religious fanaticism ends up persecuting even, and especially, its own believers. This head-in-the-sand attitude of the Singapore government with regards to homosexuality is regressive in these times. Way to go, Singapore! Pathetic!
9. 2008-06-14 11:03  
So what's wrong with cooking for my platonic friend ? and calling them my boy friend or my girl friend? Should I use another word to discribe them ? like my male friend and my female friend ?

Just because I am gay and I wish to cook for my boy friend it will normalise gay life style ? *FAINT*
Just because I am gay, dose that means my life style is not generally acceptable as main stream and should be view as alternative? Hey I have a normal life style just about the same as any straight person out there, probably even more meaningful and useful than the " breeder" !
Well the only different in me is I prefer to sleep with man and not woman and thats purely my own business, I dun even need to populise it.

Utill one day the Government of Singapore can see gay person just like a human being, than Mr. David Christie's jobs will be relex, but till than " its a dirty job and someone got to do it" and you best be doing it right because gay is everywhere so live with it.
Comment #10 was deleted by its author
11. 2008-06-14 13:03  
Absolut Primitive. Sigh! Sigh! Sigh! Sigh!
12. 2008-06-14 15:29  
Poor David Christie is just doing his job - give him some slack. My only surprise is that he wants that job! The MDA's action is only a manifestation of the government's hypocrisy and double standards.
On one hand, they legalize gambling with not one but TWO casinos - oh yes, we call them IR's here. Channel 5 is showing the series "Casino" - hmmm... should the series be censored for promoting gambling? Oh yes, our government is VERY concerned with family values - but isn't gambling more insidious and addictive to anyone between 8 and 80 as compared with homosexuality?
It's ridiculous and dear David - find a better job! You are worth more than selling your principles and common sense.
And dear Walter, there are more important issues at hand in our fledgling democracy than gay marriages.
13. 2008-06-14 22:21  
Somebody got to stand up to SG's govt pressures and say it LOUD that Homosexuality is a way of life, not a Taboo.

14. 2008-06-14 23:53  
I think that gay singaporeans as a whole have to be braver, more honest and open about their lives -in order to gain the acceptance of the ordinary people.

TV shows and the media can expose people to the presence of homosexuals, but they dont teach ordinary citizens and people to accept, relate to, or understand gay people. This has to be done by other ordinary homosexuals themselves.

Western gay communities had all risked their personal security decades ago to gain the greater freedom they have now.. and if Singaporeans want that they have to make the change themselves, rather than talk about the Government making the change for them..

Teaching people to accept homosexuals is not something that I believe the Government can, or actually have the power to do...
15. 2008-06-15 07:34  
I think we should feel sorry for all those whose rice-bowls are derived from playing poodles for the Regime. At the end of the day, the voice of change speaks louder and if a mighty force like the Soviet Communist Party can fall, what more nit-picking, name-calling has-beens? Censor all you want because for many, shows like Will & Grace has already been seen, twice over. People ARE a lot smarter than you think you know and people like us prove ourselves beyond TV shows and overseas news. Oh, and I'd rather be a human rights "fanatic" any day than a heartless, soul-less pro-rightist zombie.
16. 2008-06-15 13:52  
Many apologies, but I don't see what all the fuss is about. I lived in Thailand for years and spent plenty of time in Singapore amd all over SE and South Asia. While the gay nightlife found in neighboring countries might be considered better, I don't get the impression that gay life itself is really better or worse for Singaporeans. Do Singaporeans really believe Thais, Malays, Indonesians, Taiwanese, Bangladeshis, Indians, etc. have an easier, more accepted gay lifestyle??

Prejudice exists everywhere, in some form or another, for any and all lifestyles, not just gay lifestyles. Do you think Singapore is more accepting and accommodating for people with disabilities, for imported workers, for people of non-mainstream faiths?? My experience says that government and societal actions that tell us natural parts of our lives (whether chosen or inate) are unacceptable attempts to devalue us from the outside. But what of the inside? Where should we go to find that acceptance that we crave?

Acceptance is a road that best begins within, a process that can occur whether or not media is censored, society is accepting or government discriminates. It's my opinion and experience that we crave outside validation when we fail to self-validate; once we have self-validated, there is no prejudice strong enough to turn us away from ourselves. Yes, it takes strength and is nearly impossible to do in the most aggressive of oppressive environments. But is Singapore's environment really that oppressive??

So, do I disagree with the Singaporean government's censorship? Yes, of course. Does it make me angry? No. It exists because the majority of society in Singapore, just as elsewhere, looks for external validation giving power to those that falsely validate themselves by exercising control through prejudice in the form of law and societal pressures. Learn to love yourselves and support each other and there is little that prejudice can take away from your lives.

Group hug anyone?? Start with yourselves and, once you understand and accept the power of that for yourself, then call me and I'll be glad to join....
17. 2008-06-15 19:06  
...this proofs only one thing. Humans are still primitive primates. Nothing has really changed since mankind learned to walk on feet. Just that we use nowadays our technology and everything else we've created in the same scheme as we did before. It's still a long way...

'live long and in peace'
18. 2008-06-15 19:35  
At the end of all these fuses, the truth is, our expectations are no longer on the govt and its political moves on gay-related issues. We must of course make acknowledgement (as time goes) should there be any moves worth identifying as a political milestone here (it's afterall Singapore). In truth though, most of us have passed the point of being grateful for small "mercies". It is in this honesty that the "relevant persons" should place serious thoughts over, rather then on the occassional outburts from some homophobic individuals who are terrified over our romantic preferences.
Birds are migratory creatures.
19. 2008-06-15 20:46  
I will be blunt: This article is talking about "censorship of free speech"... that undemocratic tool of so many dictatorships. The rest I leave to my dear Singaporean friends to say out loud in the privacy of their homes. I just wish some would realize that the march of democracy & Civil rights is unstoppable and that you should join it before it gets rid of you.
20. 2008-06-16 12:55  
u can't stop the beat... Everything is gay on TV now... Mainstream and open... Singapore will be fine!
21. 2008-06-16 14:52  
After reading this article, something somes to mind:

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
- Albert Einstein

22. 2008-06-17 09:58  
David Christie looks HOT. Is he a member of Fridae? What is his screen name?
23. 2008-06-22 23:33  
Hallo "popshirt", it's about time to raise the bar, isn't it?

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