Singapore has been working to transition their content regulation scheme away from censorship and toward classification. Singapore directly regulates all media forms through the Media Development Authority (MDA) and has a majority ownership stake in the ISPs; however, corporate internet access for business purposes is exempt from regulation and there is a move toward co-regulation with a heightened emphasis on industry feedback and participation.
All films distributed in Singapore are required to be classified by the Singapore Board of Film Censors (BFC), a division of the government-run MDA. Over the years, the BFC has moved away from censorship toward classification. Prior to 1991, Singapore used a single-tier system in which films were either approved for release or disallowed. In recent years, the Singapore classification scheme has evolved to include six different classifications: G—General Audiences; PG—Parental Guidance; PG13—Parental Guidance for Children Under 13; NC16—No Children Under 16; M18—Mature 18; and R21—Restricted 21.
Singapore introduced a computer game classification system in 2008, operated by the MDA. The MDA assigns two different classifications to computer games—‘suitable for 16 & above’ and M18—and also bans games that contain content deemed ‘Not Allowed for All Ratings’ (‘NAR’). NAR content includes content ‘which denigrates any race or religion, or undermines Singapore’s national interest’, ‘content that glorifies deviant sexual behaviour’, and ‘clear instructional details of criminal activities’. Computer game developers are required to submit games likely to receive either of these classifications to the MDA, however, computer games which do not contain content inappropriate for children are not required to be classified.
Television programs are required to comply with content codes established by the MDA, which vary depending on the licence issued to the broadcaster. The guidelines that the broadcasters need to comply with depend on the size of audience and whether the service is available for free or on a paid-for basis. Free-to-air television cannot air PG-13 content between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm, and must clearly label any PG content aired during those hours. Subscription and Video-on-Demand channels can air content rated NC16 or below at all times and can also broadcast M18 content between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.
Scheduled programming on IPTV is regulated by the same content standards as subscription television, while the Video-on-Demand programme code applies to on-demand content delivered via IPTV.
As the majority stakeholder in each of the three ISPs, the Singapore government exercises significant discretion and control over the nation’s media services. In contrast to other nations surveyed, Singapore exercises internet and new media regulation through access controls and legal pressures more than technological filtering or blocking methods. Under the class licence scheme implemented by the MDA, all internet service or content providers are required to register with the MDA, obtain a licence, and abide by the MDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Providers who are granted a licence must abide by all MDA requests to filter or modify the content they post or face sanctions and revocation of their broadcasting privileges.
The MDA also has the authority to require ISPs to block external sites and demand the removal of objectionable content, which includes material of a pornographic nature; advocacy of ‘homosexuality or lesbianism’; depictions of ‘detailed or relished acts of extreme violence or cruelty’ and material that ‘glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance’. Corporate internet access for business uses is exempt from MDA regulation, as Singapore authorities distinguish between information for business or educational uses—which they believe should be as uninhibited as possible—and information for personal use.
Media self-regulation is also prevalent due to the threat of legal sanction and the fact that Singapore has some of the strictest defamation laws in the world, with the burden of proof resting on the defendant to show that the alleged defamatory statements were actually true.
The possession, distribution, or sale of pornographic material in any form is illegal in Singapore; however, visiting pornographic websites and viewing their content is not an offence as long as pornographic content is not downloaded and stored. While the MDA has the authority to require ISPs to block external sites containing ‘Prohibited Material’, defined to include material that is pornographic in nature, only a small number of pornographic websites are included on Singapore’s block list.