Friday 27 November 2015

MDA lifts ban on 240 publications after routine review

They range from anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest books
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2015

A ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest books, has been lifted after a routine review by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

But 17 publications or sources remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts publications that the Government considers contrary to public interest. This means individuals are not allowed to possess these publications and they cannot be distributed or sold in Singapore.

The announcement was made on the online portal of the Government Gazette yesterday . The MDA said it "routinely reviews prior classification decisions, in order to ensure that they keep pace with societal norms".

It added that the decision was made after discussions with government agencies and the Publications Consultative Panel, which gives views and feedback to MDA.

Nanyang Technological University media law expert Mark Cenite said the move "seems more like a housekeeping exercise than a substantive policy change", as many of the publications are out of print or no longer in demand.

Also, the authorities can still prosecute violators under other laws, such as the Penal Code, that deal with obscene content, he said.

Among the 240 publications are the anti-colonial Tamil periodical Dravida Nadu, banned in 1949; communist titles such as The Long March, a play banned in 1959; and the World Student News magazine, banned in 1957.

Also no longer on the prohibited list are adult books such as The World Of Sex. Fanny Hill, published in 1748 and considered one of the first erotic novels, is also off the list after being on it since 1966.

"Removing a defunct publication called Leg Watcher's Special No. 1, which was added to the list in 1966, won't have much impact in the Internet era, when sexual content is a click away," Dr Cenite added.

Most of the 17 titles that remain banned are magazines such as Playboy and Mayfair, as well as lesser-known titles like Men Only.

Also prohibited are all publications by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and the International Bible Students Association. The latter was gazetted in 1994. Both organisations are part of the Jehovah's Witnesses group whose members refuse to undergo national service.

No other publications have been put on the list since then.

The MDA said prohibited publications "include hardcore pornographic publications which remain in print" and that they "remain contrary to public interest".

Publications Consultative Panel vice-chairman Triena Ong said the publications that remain banned are of a more explicit nature than those taken off the list.

The last review of restricted publications was done in 2004, when Cosmopolitan magazine - known for its articles on fashion, relationships and sex - was allowed into Singapore after a 22-year ban.

The MDA said that while the ungazetted titles are now not prohibited, publishers aiming to sell them should check if they are in line with MDA content guidelines for imported publications. "The publications industry is largely self-regulated. Importers may refer the publications to MDA if in doubt," said MDA.

But Mrs Ong, a former president of the Singapore Book Publishers Association, said: "I'm not sure if there's a market for enough of these copies to be brought here. They're just not as exciting as they were viewed 30 to 40 years ago."

List of 17 publications which remain prohibited

1. Elite
2. Men Only
3. PlayGirl
4. Mayfair
5. Hustler
6. Cheri 
7. Playboy
8. Girls of Penthouse
9. Swank
10. Gallery
11. Penthouse
12. Genesis 
13. Velvet
14. Fiesta
15. Knave
16. All publications by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society 
17. All publications by International Bible Students Association

Off the list

• Anti-colonial publications such as Tamil periodical Dravida Nadu, a name referring to the push for a sovereign state in South Asia's Tamil-speaking region, and Malay periodical Nusa Dan Bangsa Melaju, which urged Malay nationalism.

• Four communist publications, such as World Student News, by the International Union of Students, a front for communist youth in Europe.

• Chinese-language erotica published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, such as Loose Women Of Wealthy Families.

• Adult interest publications such as Fanny Hill and Henry Miller's The World Of Sex.

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