Thursday, December 16, 2010

We'll adopt "light touch" approach for online videos : MDA

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has replied to my letter in the Straits Times forum.

Dec 16, 2010
Online videos: When MDA will use classification

WE REFER to Mr Martyn See's letter, ('Can political parties directly upload videos online?; Dec 9).

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has generally taken a 'light- touch' approach with regard to the Internet and not mandated that all Internet content providers (ICPs) send their uploaded films to MDA for classification.

This is also the case with Mr See, whose blog has several films that have not been submitted to MDA.

The MDA will, however, direct ICPs to submit films - for which there may be content concerns - to it for classification, if such films are raised to its attention. ICPs who are unsure should similarly submit their films to MDA.

In the case of Mr See's film, Lim Hock Siew, it was submitted to MDA for classification and subsequently gazetted as a prohibited film. Consequently, MDA asked Mr See to surrender all copies of the film in his possession and to take down all digital copies of the film that he had uploaded onto the Internet.

Amy Chua (Ms)
Director, Media Content & Standards,
Media Development Authority

I reckon for some, MDA's letter may raise more questions than answers. So in this regard I shall attempt to spell out the dos and donts in the form of a Q&A format.

Q: So it's now legal to produce, reproduce or import videos and upload them directly onto the internet?

A : No, technically it is still illegal. Under section 14 of the Films Act, it states that 'every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board (of Film Censors) without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship'.

Q : What is the definition of "film" under the law?

A : Here's the definition of "film" under the Films Act:

Film" means —
(a) any cinematograph film;
(b) any video recording, including a video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game;
(c) any other material record or thing on which is recorded or stored for immediate or future retrieval any information that, by the use of any computer or electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or displayed as wholly or partly visual moving pictures,
and includes any part of a film, and any copy or part of a copy of the whole or any part of a film.

Q : Does "film" includes videos shot on my mobile phone?

A : According to the above, yes.

Q : What are the penalties if one does not submit these films to MDA?

A : Section 21 of the Films Act spells out the penalties, and also empowers the authorities to enter your home to search for unlicensed films. Here it goes :

21. —(1) Any person who —

(a) has in his possession;
(b) exhibits or distributes; or
(c) reproduces,

any film without a valid certificate, approving the exhibition of the film, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —

(i) in respect of an offence under paragraph (a), to a fine of not less than $100 for each such film that he had in his possession (but not to exceed in the aggregate $20,000); and

(ii) in respect of an offence under paragraph (b) or (c), to a fine of not less than $500 for each such film he had exhibited, distributed or reproduced, as the case may be (but not to exceed in the aggregate $40,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.

(2) Any Censor and any Deputy or Assistant Censor and any Inspector of Films may at all reasonable times enter any place in which any film is kept or is being or is about to be exhibited and may examine the film, and if on such examination he has reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under this section has been or is about to be committed in respect of the film he may seize the film and any equipment used in the commission of the offence.

Q : But aren't there exceptions? Did MDA not create a category of films that are exempted from classification?

A : Yes, indeed there is a category of films which are exempted from classification. The list includes documentaries, children and sports shows, karaoke videos and personal videos. The full list can be found here.

However, the exemptions are not automatic. You have to apply for an exemption certificate from MDA (see here), subject to your declaration that all the exempted videos does not contain films that may violate the law, such as party political films, pornography, or any film that MDA may deem to fall outside the exemption list.

Q : Okay, now I'm confused. So am I allowed to upload videos directly online or not?

A : According to the above letter, yes, you are allowed to. MDA says they will not require you to submit your videos before you post them online.

Q : Then what's the use of retaining section 14 of the Films Act when they are not going to enforce it on every film, considering that most people watch films online these days?

A : Three reasons.

Firstly, the Films Act was passed into law in 1980, some 25 years before YouTube.

Secondly, section 14 is still applicable for all public screenings, including movies in cinemas and film festivals.

Thirdly, section 14 is a handy tool to use when the authorities wishes to act on films (or people) which they deem to be "against public interests". For example, they may selectively choose to conduct raids on a private screening of an anti-Lee Kuan Yew film, such as this and this.

Or, on occasions when the police raid a person's home for an illegal activity or possessions (such as gambling or drugs), they may also charge the owner with possession of unlicensed films.

In the above letter, MDA says they can also order websites to submit videos for classification, if they deem these videos to have "content concerns".

Q : So what are videos that may have "content concerns"?

A : MDA doesn't say, but I would posit three categories of videos that may raise their attention.

1. Videos that denigrate religion.
2. Videos that denigrate a race.
3. Videos that denigrate Lee Kuan Yew, his family and his legacy.

Q : How about political videos? Doesn't section 33 of the Films Act prohibits "party political films"?

A : Good question, and "party political films" are loosely defined as films that makes "biased references" to any political matter and persons in Singapore. There is a recent amendment to this law. The government would like to think it's a liberalisation, but on paper the law is more restrictive. See my earlier blog post on this subject here.

In the above letter, MDA mentions that there are "several films" on my blog that have not been submitted for classification. I think they meant my list of "Top 100 Political Videos (that are likely to be banned in Singapore)" . So I suppose that since these videos have not raise any "content concerns", they provide a benchmark of political films which may be deemed "safe."

Separately, in this post, blogger Alex Au has raised some content concern that two of PAP's uploaded videos may have violated section 33 of the Films Act. Don't bet on MDA to act on his concerns. So I say if the PAP can do it, so can you. But again, look out for that OB marker marked "LKY".

Q : So why do you bother to submit your films to MDA, now that the latter has said they will not enforce the law strictly on online videos?

A : Prior to this letter, I had submitted my films in good faith, and for the purpose of screening them in public at some point. Two of my films remained gazetted as prohibited films, but you can watch them here and here.


Read also :

MDA hacks away at rule of law

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