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Should R21 movies be allowed in neighbourhood cinemas?

Lim Guohao

Film classification in Singapore first began in 1991, where films are being rated into three categories (G, PG, and R18) under a single-tier censorship system, based on the film’s sexual, political, racial and religious contents. As times improve, there is a higher demand for more choices to the movies shown in Singapore, thus more classification categories, such as PG13, NC16, M18 and R21 are introduced to provide a varied and informed choice for the consumers, as well as to uphold the social values and national interests.

However, as technology and globalization permits, young consumers can now obtain restricted contents from the Internet easily, which leads many to argue that censorship in Singapore should be relaxed since it has become less effective in controlling contents young consumers are exposed to nowadays. One of the suggestions is to allow R21 movies to be shown in neighbourhood cinemas. However, I feel that R21 should continue to be disallowed in these neighbourhood cinemas as these places are highly populated with young consumers, and that easy accessibility to these places may seem to encourage them to view these contents. More importantly, neighbourhood cinemas are supposed to be family-orientated, where contents shown are of suitable for all ages.

Currently, Singapore is encouraging a media environment that is of a co-regulation approach, in which more social responsibilities is passed down to the media players, parents and individual consumers. However, I feel that the public is not ready to welcome a media environment that is of great freedom given the followings:

Firstly, when responsibilities are passed on to the media players, many do not practice high frequency checks at cinema entrances or at ticketing box offices. Not only that, there are also no mitigating measures to prevent any underage consumers from buying tickets via the online or phone booking system. Besides, because of the non-standardized procedures for checks, young consumers who are mature in looking may be able to go by the loopholes and find ways to sneak into the cinemas to watch these restricted contents.

Moreover, from 1995, the then Board of Film Censors had delivered a severe verbal warning to several cinemas after they found that ushers at some places did not check the ages of some patrons, who could have been minors, before admitting them to restricted movies. From then, movie operators are required to foot a $20,000 security deposit for an annual licence in order to exhibit R21, M18 and NC16 films, and should they breach the terms, their licence and deposit will be forfeited. Such implementations are still valid till now, and this shows that cinemas have yet to come out with a complete solution into dealing such cases.

Thus, by disallowing R21 movies in neighbourhood cinemas, it will prevent more cases of unwanted access of young consumers to restricted movie contents.

Secondly, for the public’s responses, given the CRC report 2010 survey results, 57% of the respondents are in support to retain the ban for R21 movies in neighbourhood cinemas. Focus groups, consisting of industry representatives and the public majorly are also in favour of retaining the R21 ban in neighbourhood cinemas. Moreover, in Singapore, we observe that there are growing households which having both parents to work in the day, this in turn restricts the ability of them to control their kids from monitoring what movies they are watching in the cinemas during after-school hours, especially those which are near schools. Thus, we see that parental controls are still limited and that the R21 ban policy is able to act as a “media gatekeeper” in which it limits the contents young consumers can get within their easy reach.

As for individual consumers, especially the young, curiosity may be an encouraging factor for them to challenge the policy since these channels are made readily available to them. More importantly, as we know that the media is able to educate and influence, learning from the magic bullet theory and cultivation theory, the audience will absorb the information given passively and may cultivate the ideas shown through repeated emphasis. Thus, when young audience get exposed to movies that portray sexual, racial, religious or even non-mainstream messages like “Sita sings the blue” and “Lust Caution” and “Brokeback Mountain”, they may not be able to decipher between reality and the story plots, which will cultivate in their minds that these acts are acceptable by the public, which is otherwise in reality. Thus, to upload national social values such as “Family as the basic unit of society” and “Racial and religious harmony”, R21 movies should be kept far from young consumers’ daily reach.

Though many may argue that modern technology may enable young consumers to retrieve contents that are restricted by the government easily, however, retaining the policies, especially R21 movies to be disallowed in neighbourhood cinemas, continues to act as a powerful message to the consumers, informing them of what are the behaviours or beliefs that are inappropriate in Singapore. Unless the media players and parents are able to work hand in hand to protect the interests of young, policies such as retaining the R21 ban in neighbourhood cinemas should stay.

Written as part of the assignment for Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Media Ethics, Law and Policy module.