6 Aug 2006


[An undated photo of award-winning Singapore playwright P. Elangovan.]

Could everyone reading this who owns a website or has access to any media outlet publish this as wide as possible. Your government is making Singapore the 'village idiot' of the global village.

Date: Sun, 6 Aug 2006 17:01:16 +0800


The 'muzzled lapdog 140 out of 167' Singapore media has projected that SMEGMA portrays Muslims negatively.

In fact, there are 5 Muslims acting in the play.

The play does not project Muslims wrongly, but exposes how Muslims are exploited by the Singapore powers that be through the experiences of :

Muslim Southern Thai woman raped by Singapore soldier in a covert operation, Indonesian underaged girls in Rainbow Hotel - Bintan/Tanjung Pinang, Indonesian Maid whose virginity is bought by her employer etc.

Freedom of Expression is blasphemous to the 66.6% Animal Farm called Singapore.

S Thenmoli

The Media Development Authority of Singapore's (MDA) censorship of the arts has become an unbearable joke today.

We applied for a public entertainment licence for the play SMEGMA, written and directed by Elangovan (bilingual poet-playwright-director) a month ago to the MDA for censorship vetting.

I called the MDA on Tue 1 Aug afternoon at about after 2pm to find out about the licence.

I was told that MDA has approved the licence and it was ready for collection.
About half an hour later, I received a call from an MDA officer saying that the licence was not ready and they were still processing.

When I asked her whether it was a joke and also added that I would go the media, she immediately did a full roundabout and said that the licence was ready and
we could collect it.

We collected the black & white approved licence document from MDA at 4.55 pm on Tue 1 Aug 06 after paying them S$20 by NETS at the counter.

The conditions in the licence were as expected- RA18 with advisory: 'The play is Rated RA18. The play contains strong language and adult themes that may be objectionable to some members of the public. The advisory must be reflected in all publicity materials.'

Today, at about 2.30 pm, I received a call from an MDA official who did not reveal her name.

She informed me that the licence which MDA issued to our group Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) for the play SMEGMA has been cancelled.

She did not give any reasons and I demanded for a written letter.

She said that MDA would follow up.

Meanwhile, MDA had a press conference for the local media at 3pm at its premises to inform that they had cancelled the licence issued for the play SMEGMA. The script of SMEGMA was given to the press members for private reading and collected back.

I finally received a letter by fax today from Ms Amy Tsang,confirming the cancellation of our licence with the following reasons:

[para1. Further to our teleconversation today, we would like to inform you that the Media Development Authority (MDA) is cancelling the arts entertainment licence No: 005/08/2006 issued on 1 Aug 2006 for the play 'SMEGMA'.

[ para 2. After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and may negatively impact upon our bilateral relations with our neighbours.

para3.The play portrays Muslims in a negative light. Two playlets featuring Muslim terrorists are also provocative in view of the increased tension in the Middle east.

para 4. In view of this, MDA has decided not to let the play be staged.]

After the above fax, I received a call from MDA saying that they would be faxing another letter soon and it would supercede the fax sent earlier.

I received the final fax at 5.29 pm with a cover letter saying - "Please ignore the earlier letter on the above subject which we had faxed to you before 5 pm today. The attached supercedes the previous letter."

Now, this fax had only one para (para 2) to give a reason for the cancellation:

[para 2: After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and portrays Muslims in a negative light."

Paragraph 2 from the earlier letter disapperaed and paragraph 2 has been amended.

Elangovan's TALAQ faced a different sort of problem in OCT 2000 from the then PELU of the Police. The licence was not issued and the whole situation ended in a fiasco, that led to a relook at the censorship laws for plays in Singapore.

But now, six years later, the esteemed MDA has created a mess for a small minority theatre group, by issuing the licence and then cancelling the licence, and also changing their reasons for the cancellation, the same day.

MDA had a month to vet the play. They claim on their website that they would usually vet a play and respond after two weeks.

MDA had sufficient time to vet the play and inform us.

We would have made the necessary amendments if MDA had informed us earlier.

What's wrong with the Censorship panel of MDA and its super-efficient officers?
Why are MDA officers behaving like this?

Why cancel the licence on the eve of our production, which is tomorrow and Sunday?
If MDA had cancelled the licence much earlier, we would not have proceeded with our production.

We would have saved our finances but now we have lost so much.

It only confirms that liberalisation of the arts in Singapore is just lip-service of the 66.6% powers that be.

What happened to us ( worse than the TALAQ incident in 2000) may happen to fellow artistes in this country.

With the National Day celebrations to glorify nation-building next week, and the IMF meeting in September, what Freedom of Expression are we talking about in Singapore?
It is a painful joke.

Grateful if you would globalise this Singapore Joke.

Thank you.

S Thenmoli (Ms)
Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)


Matilah_Singapura said...

Bbzzzzzztttttt! My Bullshitometer just went off.

If you want to take about "freedom of expression", then it really doesn't matter what your play is about — or more importantly — and this is KEY — that it is irrelevant whether your "creation" offends Muslims, or any other group or individual for that matter.

Being "offensive" has never been, and can never be relevant when one is talking about freedom to create or to express.

soci said...

According to the MDA it was banned because of the content. As we cannot see the play unless they do it and and post it on google it is good to hear what the play was actually about rather than the MDA version which really sets the bullshitometer off.

The press release is arguing that the 'story' being created by the Straits Jacket is nonesense. So the content maybe irrelevant in relation to a defense of freedom of expression argument, but correcting an error being propogated by the mass media is surely a good response.

Anonymous said...

"truth is enemy of state" overblows the matter; merely bureaucratic muddle

each level of civil servants follows a rule book, including a rule on when to send the matter up a level because it cannot be handled at this level; there was a muddle on whether to decide or send up

Anonymous said...

"bureaucratic muddle" my arse.

It is an ongoing policy of censorship from those at the top over ruling civil servants decisions at the last minute.

Who wrote the rule book and why?

Anonymous said...

read the next article; dont rant

Anonymous said...

I believe there is freedom of expression - you are free to say what you want, or to write and produce a play about whatever content of form you choose to.

However, expression should not be mixed up with accountability. You can say or do what you want, but be prepared to pay a price for it.

Total freedom doesn't mean anything, because it is freedom without control. Look at what freedom to shoot off missiles is doing to the Middle East region. So, only if you're prepared to pay the price for someone else's "freedom of expression", should you start advocating for total freedom.

- Impassioned Singaporean

black feline said...

it's so funny...the whole episode..i was both laughing and crying....this is pathetic singapore for u...im going to feed my cats now!

Malu said...

It is a disgrace and affront to our PM and his promises to open up the society.

THE WORLD PRESS WILL HAVE A FIELD DAY. NOW we will go FURTHER down the rungs in press freedom and further down the HAPPY HAPPY Index.

The actions of the MDA esp at the last minute (when they were given ample time) do not bode well for PM's administration.

Will the MDA be responsible to pay for the costs incurred by the organisers ?

(after all, the LTA wants to 'fine' tpt operators for any delays in the tpt system, etc...when this money should be given back to the AFFECTED communters as they are the ones who suffer from any tpt system breakdown !)

I sometimes feel all these actions by MICA, MDA, etc..are subverting whatever good intentions the PM had proclaimed when he first took office.

Muslim actors/actresses were part of the play.

Many Muslims incl Ms. Marina Mahathir (outspoken daughter of former PM Mr. Mahathir Mohammed) had condemned some of their practices and the anti-women stance by religious bigots.
Thousands of Muslims agree with her.

She was also interviewed by our press and her views (that opposes many present practices and opposes some of the religious leaders' edits) were given prominence in our very own press.

WHY was she interviewed and given prominence in our own local press if her statements can incite unwelcome reactions ??

By the same token, aren't we being mischievous by publishing her interview at that time, knowing religion and race are 'sensitive issues' ?

Double Standards?

We have heard of Muslim ladies in certain African countries been painfully circumcised at a very young age.

Thankfully, the UN and other agencies are trying to put this barbaric practice to a stop.

We have heard of the former President of Pakistan, Gen Zia who laid the rule that for a woman to complain of rape, she must need at least 4 male witnesses. Otherwise, she can be arrested and punished for wrongful accusation.

We have heard of women accused of 'adultery' being buried up to their heads and stoned to death.
This has nothing to do with religion. Otherwise, it will be practised the world over !!!!

After all, these are MAN-made and made under the guise of religion by bigots.

Is it wrong if some of these practices were stopped as these have nothing to do with religion or as these are being hijacked by religious bigots?

teck soon said...

Perhaps those working at the MDA are more mature, generally higher-standard Singaporeans than everyone else. That is why they have taken on the hard task of watching and reviewing all sorts of objectionable material every day. I just can't imagine how hard their jobs must be! They must be constantly offended while doing their daily jobs, with all the pornographic, smut-filled, racially-sensitive, or religious films they must endure. I am guessing that the porn-censoring must be the hardest part of the job.

If the majority of Singaporeans (that is, those generally dumber or less mature than MDA censors, approximately 66.6% of the population) had the freedom to view this particular play, then Singapore as a country would simply fall apart. Freedom would lead to race riots, missile shootings, labour strikes, and (yikes) mah-jong tournaments with real-dollar betting.

I trust that the MDA censors can continue to parent those of us who are impassioned Singaporeans aching to see some real art. But we're mostly just too immature to view plays on our own like adults in the rest of the world.

Ganga said...

My personal opinion is that, as an experimental and controversial theatre production group, Agni Koothu must be prepared to face obstacles from the authorities and criticism by the public. They have, more or less, done that but, in this case, should have clearly anticipated the cancellation as a strong possibility.

Agni Koothu seems inclined to exploring the societal problems from the depiction of characters from the Muslim community (in the case of Talaq in 2000 & Smegma in 2006) when this could have been done easily with Hindu characters. Being both Hindus themselves, the production manager, Ms Thenmoli and playwright/director Mr P Elangovan are unfortunately not appropriately positioned to offer a complete perspective of the Muslim community.

The real issue with the incident was that the MDA had muddled up the administrative process. The whole mechanism probably went into action only on 1st August 2006 when Ms Thenmoli called and threatened to go the media. After that, within hours, a licence was prepared and she had collected it. It was only subsequently that she was informed that the licence was cancelled and the press release held, 3 days later. When a written reply was demanded by Ms Thenmoli, she was faxed one copy with more information and then another a few hours later which had been amended much shorter and declared 'supercedes previous letter'. In the end, the plug was essentially pulled a day before the staging of the drama when MDA had about a month to do their 'processing'.

There is no doubt Agni Koothu would have lost a considerable amount of money, not to mention the amount of time spent preparing and rehearsing and they will probably never compensated for their losses. It is indeed sad that the authorities are not bound to be accountable for their inefficiency.

Ganga (Mr)
Profile : http://www.gangasudhan.20m.com
Articles : http://ganga.proboards41.com/index.cgi?board=welcome
Sudhan's Creations (Biz Reg No: 53048057C)
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PS >> By the way, Smegma = "A sebaceous secretion, especially the whitish cheesy secretion that collects under the prepuce of the penis or around the clitoris." (Yucks!)

Anonymous said...

'the freedom to swing my fist, ends with at the beginning of the other persons nose' However, the freedom to say what you want should be totally free. Though, funnily enough, notice how 7 cartoons of Muslim religious ideals are put up, and riots occur, people die, buildings are burned and a religious nation calls out for blood. Madonna wants to put on a concert and has pictures of her hanging on a cross with a headband of thorns (exactly like Christ) and all the catholics say is "ohh, bad taste..shame on her"

Looks like some religions/people can take a joke or other peoples point of view, and others just have WAY too much free time on their hands.

Guess the Singaporean gov't just doesn't want to have the hassle of breaking out the 'red cars' again to beat the citizens into submission again.

Anonymous said...

I have decided to take this discussion further. After reading a reasonably writen feature in the Today paper, I will quote some of the contents.
I am certain singapore and it's people have been designed to run as robotic automatons.

The feature talks about fun; I quote: A tour guide who handles North American tours for Asian travellers reports singaporeans are easy to manage. however the guide is not impresseed by the punctual law abiding singaporeans.

The tour guide finds singaporeans to be efficient,even on vacation. If they are curious about things they see, they are not expressive or emotive. They surpress enthusiasm prefering to stay out of the revelry in case they make a fool of themselves.

The writer hints the singaporeansw is not much fun on a long coach trip because he never discusses, comments or talks.

All in all islanders are not much fun with an obesssion for only work and the rat race.

I am able to add one or two points. As a frequent bus traveller I watch and hear the student asttempt to communicate with friends. They stutter mutter a mish mash of language prefering to contact each other with a quick sms.

When you speak to them, they are unable to answer your question, instead the girls, go red and attempt to hide from embarrasement. They cannot follow a natural conversation or make any comments.

Maybe this is an Asian trend.

Anonymous said...

freedom of expression does not mean condemning other races and people. that is being irresponsible.

if you want to fill your piggy banks with money from a play that is insults other people, countries and religions, then you're not really being a man yourself.

Anonymous said...

There are 5 Muslims acting in this play, is there not?

I would like to watch the play and judge it for myself. I am schooled by the Singapore education system which had adequately taught me to be intelligent and discerning.

- A Singaporean Muslim

Anonymous said...

yes, but Not everyone has the advantage of being educated to be "intellingent" and "discerning".

would you rather Singapore sacrifices the peace our forefathers and us have fought so hard to achieve to let this issue of " freedom of expression " prevail?

Anonymous said...

From the article, the sequences of events that happened, it truly reflects the lack of professionalism of MDA. Is this first-world governance?? What a shame!

Third world countrymen

Matilah_Singapura said...

Anon 10:20 >"Third world countrymen"<

Quite to the contrary. In the 50's the US govt (governing a First World Country) with the help of Senator Joe McCarthy engaged in the flushing out of "reds and pinkos" in Hollywood ("The Red Scare").

At the time, totalitarian regimes in the USSR were also leaning on their artists to produce great works to showcase the Soviets' greatness.

Fascists like Musolinni and Adolf Hitler (himself a painter) supported the arts and married them to nationalism. Hitler purchased thousands of paintings and was instrumental in boosting the German film indistry. Stalin did the same in Russia. As long as the films, music and paintings were "nationalistic", they passed. Many artists of the day flocked to their new patrons. Why not? It's tough being an artist!

The same statist/collectivist scenario is found in Singapore. Tow the line, and you will be funded. Perhaps you might even win some kind of national award - regardless of the standard.

And following in true statist convention, those artists who tow the national line are well positioned to be included in any selection for tenure in the govt — as arts professors or policy makers, or both.

"A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill." — Robert A. Heinlein

Anonymous said...

To the anon who wrote: yes, but Not everyone has the advantage of being educated to be "intellingent" and "discerning".

would you rather Singapore sacrifices the peace our forefathers and us have fought so hard to achieve to let this issue of " freedom of expression " prevail?

my reply: And would those who do not have the advantange of being educated to be "intellingent" and "discerning" watch this play? It is unlikely. So stop your parroting of false logic that has been recycled a million times and soundly rebutted even more, and come up with something original.

Anonymous said...

the problem is the mind of the singapaorean, and the singaporean is the problem, work this out.

Sammy said...

As I mentioned just now in this blog somewhere:

Mr. George Yeo, in the Straits Times dated 9 August (page 29) when he was asked whether the movie, The Da Vinci Code should be banned, stated:

" If you ban it, it means that you are giving it credence. And it suggests that you are afraid of it...and your faith is fragile...If your faith is so fragile that you can't take any ALTERNATIVE VIEW, then it can't be a deep faith."

This is SO relevant to the play that was not permitted to be staged.

You can make your own deductions and inferences from the wise words of our Foreign Minister.

Anonymous said...

actually the two cases come under different rules; one is the film censorship board which deals with material made elsewhere without possibility of involvement in local politics/social issues, while the other is local productions that could have such motives

Anonymous said...

these thoughts replicate those of a Westerner - freedom of speech etc.

Understand that Singapore is made up of Asians. We are by nature, conservative and we keep to ourselves.

Do you talk to the person next to you in the MRT?

So when a play that shows one of OUR races such a degrading light, why would we let it happen? Protect our fellow man.

Must you use violence to put your point across all the time? Have some respect for our fellow races. Why not take one of them along and let them squirm during the play while you say,

oh wow. this is certainly freedom of speech. yeay for singapore. we are cool.


sammy said...

Thanks anon for yr feedback.
Appreciate it.

Here, the local production I am referring to is 'Smegma' by the Agni Theatre Group.

(maybe you meant this, too).

There could be other productions that fall in this category, too.

This 'Smegma' play came to my mind when I read about Mr. George Yeo's thought-provoking and perhaps 'timely' interview.

(I am not referring to the film on Dr. Chee - the circumstances of which I am not very familiar with)

Many of our LOCAL productions have to deal with LOCAL issues eg "I No Stupid", "Why are U so like Dat ?" (I do not remember the exact titles) etc...
with doses of introspection, self-criticism and humour.

Otherwise, it makes no sense if they are of no relevance to locals like us.

As we have seen over the years, the govt is loosening up the reins to commensurate the 'rise' of maturity of the public or certain sections of the public.

If it is any consolation,
we have seen in history how poets (eg former Czech leader), philosophers (Aristocrat, etc..) were ahead of their people in their times, too.

Perhaps some (like the Theatre group) are ahead of the rest of us. :-)

The country will certainly be 'sterile' if we do not have true-blue Singaporeans who really feel for our country to write such plays. It helps create the anchor for us to debate issues that affect us.

The alternative is to take the 'bochap' or 'quitters' atttitude (indifference or apathy), which the govt ironically does not want, too.

Anonymous said...

the problem is singapore is sterile full of people unable to make any decision, justm look at them, glassy eyed and ga ga afraid to speak to their neighbour, in fact scared of their mown shadows.

the fear factor can be observed in every facet of life. the fact is singaporeans are unable to question. they are learn parrot fashion then unable to explain just how to they can use the informationn. in fact they cannot comprehend why they have learned the dubject. i know of local doctors who must look in their books to see how to treat a patient. in europe a doctor will look at the patient and tell them what is wrong.