Saturday, February 19, 2011

AWARE's EGM video rated M18, distribution suspended

MDA hits pause button on Aware's DVD of 2009 meeting

By Cassandra Chew

WOMEN'S advocacy group Aware's plan to distribute a set of DVDs of its dramatic extraordinary general meeting (EGM), held in May 2009, has hit a snag.

That was the EGM where Aware's old guard ousted a group of newcomers who had wrested control of the association.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has not been able to distribute the DVDs, as it is appealing against a requirement that it needs a government licence to do so.

Aware has been corresponding with the Media Development Authority (MDA) on the matter.

The MDA has, in the meantime, given the DVD an M18 rating - meaning it should be seen only by those aged 18 and above.

Aware planned to sell the four-disc DVD box set of the EGM only to its 600 members, as an official record of the event.

But its executive director Corinna Lim, 45, said an MDA official contacted her 'a few days' after news of the $100-per-set DVDs broke last October, to ask if Aware had a distribution licence.

Ms Lim, a former corporate lawyer, said Aware has appealed against the need for one. She argued that the licensing requirement applies to businesses, not non-profit organisations.

Section 6 of the Films Act states that a person must have a valid licence in order to 'carry on any business, whether or not the business is carried on for profit, of importing, making, distributing or exhibiting films'.

Nearly 3,000 people attended Aware's eight-hour EGM in 2009. The meeting at Suntec convention centre was documented by an event management firm.

Aware has received 'fewer than 100 orders' for the DVDs, and has not distributed any to its members, said Ms Lim.

'I really take the view that we are not obliged to have a licence, and if they make us have a licence, they would be setting a terrible precedent for Singapore.

'That means any organisation that wants to distribute to your shareholders or just your members would need a licence.'

She noted that recordings of the EGM were online, such as on video-sharing site YouTube.

But MDA director of customer services and operations Pam Hu told The Straits Times yesterday that the MDA has required some religious and arts groups - and not just businesses - to possess the distribution licence.

Ms Hu added, however, that the MDA is reviewing Aware's appeal and would notify the group of the outcome shortly.

On the M18 rating, she said this is because the DVDs 'feature discussion of homosexuality and Aware's sexuality programme, which stirs up strong emotion among the members'.

'This contributed to the M18 rating as it requires maturity to understand the issues discussed and not be carried away by the emotive passion of the meeting.'

Observers were divided on how to interpret the law.

Singapore Management University assistant law professor Eugene Tan said the language of the law does not limit its reach and thus could apply to Aware.

But Professor Ang Peng Hwa, of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, said Aware should not need a licence as it does not distribute films in its normal course of work.

'If it needs to have a licence, that means any company that does a corporate video will also need (one). MDA will be flooded with licensing (applications),' he said.

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