[IWAR] Singapore censorship

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Sun Mar 01 1998 - 09:39:20 PST

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    Singapore censors try to keep up with cutting edge
     SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Keeping up with proliferating multi-media
     technology is tough for anyone, including censors, but Singapore is
     trying its best.
     In recent weeks, the government has taken steps to help the censors
     keep pace with the fast-changing world of media technology,
     including widening its definition of ``publication'' and streamlining its
     various censorship bodies.
     Singapore's government has never made any bones about its view that
     censorship in such areas as pornography and certain political material
     is necessary to protect moral values and maintain internal security.
     On that basis it has long banned some foreign books, magazines and
     films, censored videos imported for personal use, and imposed
     restrictions on domestic publications.
     And Singapore's leadership has said it does not want to exempt the
     media of the IT (information technology) age.
     In the past few weeks, it has:
     -- Announced it was pulling various media censorship and licensing
     bodies into one unit to make life easier for importers and others,
     partly ``in response to the advances in technology.''
     -- Expanded provisions of its act regulating obscene films to include
     new technologies like CDs, digital video discs (DVDs), and electronic
     mail, and stiffened penalties.
     -- Made similar changes in its publication act, expanding the definition
     of ``publication'' to CD-ROMs, sound recordings, pictures and
     drawings generated by computer graphics.
     -- Put into law a ban on political parties making films or videos.
     While regulation should not be overdone, controls on information
     were needed in the IT age because ``just as cars can knock down
     people, ideas can also be dangerous,'' Teo Chee Hean, now
     education minister, said in 1995.
     ``Ideas can kill,'' he was quoted as saying. While it was critical for
     Singapore's progress to be open to IT, he said: ``As with many things
     in this world, a sense of balance is required, and some control is
     required to ensure that we can reap the benefits and shut out or
     minimise the dangers.''
     As Teo's remarks suggested, Singapore wants to be open to IT. With
     few natural resources and a well-paid labor force, Singapore looks to
     being a multi-media center on the cutting edge of technology as one
     way of staying prosperous.
     A multi-billion-dollar drive aims to hook every home into a
     state-of-the-art multi-media fibre optics web by the year 2000.
     In addition to its IT program, the government wants to encourage
     more independent thinking.
     Singaporean students perform at or near the top in international
     academic testing, but critics say in the work force Singaporeans often
     lack the entrepreneurial, innovative talents seen in places like the
     United States.
     Some say the efforts to be an innovative multi-media center while
     maintaining censorship and limits on political activity are a bit like
     trying to square the circle.
     Asked how the recent shift in rules meshes with the ``intelligent island''
     idea, veteran opposition leader Joshua Jeyaretnam said: ``It doesn't,
     does it? The answer is obvious.''
     ``I know they talk about wanting to think creatively. The only way
     one can think creatively is to ... have access to different philosophies,
     different ideas, and if you don't allow that how can you expect
     someone to think creatively?,'' Jeyaretnam told Reuters on Sunday.
     Discussing the bill to ban political films and videos, which the
     government said was necessary to keep debate from turning into an
     advertising contest, one appointed member of parliament said the law
     was trying to ``shield Singaporeans like children.''
     But government defenders say rhetoric on censorship's dangers often
     exaggerates the reality -- and pragmatism -- of practice.
     For example, although Singapore blocks access to certain Internet
     Websites, it is a tiny handful of what is available and Websurfers
     looking for prurience or politics still have much to choose from.
     Moreover, business user access is not blocked.
     Nor is the government seeking to snoop through electronic mail, said
     Information and the Arts Minister George Yeo on Friday, discussing
     the inclusion of e-mail in film act revisions.
     The move was to enable police to act when people complain of
     receiving obscene films via e-mail, and Singapore had ``no intention to
     intrude into private communications,'' he said.
     ``It is not our objective to increase the level of censorship in
     Singapore. Just maintaining the existing level of censorship is difficult
     enough,'' Yeo said.

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