Creative Licence: The Regulation of Media in Singapore
by Benny Tan and Eleanor Wong
Benny Tan and Eleanor Wong’s monograph on the regulation of media in Singapore is a much welcome addition to the developing literature on the subject. This book is one of the first to comprehensively bring together the various laws and regulations covering the media industry, making them more accessible for those in the media industry. Any person involved in the media space would find this book a good starting point in understanding the intricate interplays between the various laws governing the media industry.
The book is organised in five parts. After a brief introduction, the authors dive straight into how different forms of media are regulated in Singapore. The book comprehensively covers the regulation of broadcasts (Chapter 2), films (Chapter 3), arts entertainment (Chapter 4) and advertising (Chapter 5) in Singapore. The clear treatment of each form at distinct chapters makes it easy for any reader to navigate the complex web of regulations that governs the industry.
The authors set out to provide a straightforward and practical take on the laws governing the media industry in Singapore, and should be commended for achieving exactly what they sought to do. The book provides a step by step guide to help a reader understand one’s obligations under the relevant media regulatory framework. This is achieved through the authors’ provision of useful summary tables and flowcharts throughout the book to clearly organise concepts and the relevant regulations. The presentation of information in such a reader-friendly format would be welcomed by those in the media industry, who may not be legally trained.
Readers would also appreciate the authors’ efforts in breaking down abstract concepts into easy to understand terms for the layperson. One of such concepts that could potentially cause confusion was what a “film” is when referred to for the purposes of the Films Act, as it deviates from a typical understanding of what a film is. In this instance, the authors used a table to illustrate the differences between “the visual content that is meant to be viewed or displayed” (which is what the Films Act governs), from “the physical thing or object that holds such content”. The authors’ careful explanation of these abstract concepts should be applauded, as it would enable a layperson to better grasp the legislation.
The authors further break down the complex media regulatory regimes by providing examples on how the rules and regulations would apply. This further places the inherently abstract nature of these rules and regulations into an accessible format that a layperson can understand. For example, the book contains a compilation of the cases of application of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which would help readers better understand the Code in practice. While the regulations and practice guides may be difficult to navigate, the provision of such examples on how they apply to real world situations helps a reader to better appreciate the application of the law in practice.
The book is also noteworthy for the currency of its views on the media industry in Singapore. This is exemplified through discussions of the current state of regulation of content on the Internet. The authors’ recognition of changes in the way we consume and engage with media challenges readers to consider whether the assumptions and foundations of the past regimes continue to hold true. The authors question whether the traditional approach of policing end users by controlling the permitted means of reception would remain relevant, with the advent of a wide range of computer equipment available to users today enabling them to source a wide spectrum of content through less regulated pipelines.
Those seeking to understand the media regulatory regime in Singapore will not be disappointed by this monograph, as the book is relatively comprehensive while being succinct. Going beyond a focus on formal controls through legislation and various practice guides, the authors also elaborate on informal controls used in the media industry. For instance, the authors discuss the informal controls restraining artistes in Singapore in the arts entertainment industry, such as through funding, sponsorships, availability of performance spaces and official criticism by the authorities. The elaboration on informal controls in the media industry beyond what is provided through legislation, provides a balanced holistic insight into the existing regulatory regime in Singapore.
While the book mainly sets out to provide a practical perspective on the ambit of the laws governing the media industry in Singapore, it also goes further and provides other valuable insights as well. For instance, the authors go beyond a basic discussion on the regulatory regime to further consider why the relationship between the licensing scheme and classification scheme for films is not the same as that for broadcast and arts entertainment. Therefore, although the main focus of the book is to help its readers understand the current regulatory regime, it is noteworthy for also going further and analysing the reasons for the regulatory regime as it stands today.
This is a book for anyone involved or interested in the media industry in Singapore. For practitioners and persons in the media space, it provides a guide to navigating the web of regulations governing the industry. For students and academia, the book probes further and provides some insight as to why the regulatory regime developed to what it is today. It is indeed a book worthy of a place in any legal library, or on the bookshelves of anyone involved in the media industry or who would like to better understand the industry.