Yawning Bread. September 2006

Minister tries to explain censorship of gay expression




According to the blog called Snapshots of Life, the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communication and the Arts, Balaji Sadasivan, said that a concert was banned because the organisers refused to accept an R21 rating. This struck me as quite different from the events as I understood them at the time. Was it so? We shall examine the details further on.

Balaji was giving a speech explaining the rationale behind Singapore's censorship regime on 15 September 2006, at the Ministerial Forum 2006 held at the Singapore Management University (SMU). It was quite a small gathering with about 50 persons in the room.


The part about the censorship of gay expression is the subject of this article. This is what Balaji said, according to the blogger, Soulgroove:

A local community that has felt particularly agrieved is the gay community. With regards to this, there jury is still out on whether it is NATURE vs NURTURE. The committee takes the stand of impressionable minds (nuture-bias) and therefore have the requirement of gay-events to be R21 labelled. Unless there is conclusive evidence that it is genes (nature) that is the cause of homosexuality, the stand is one of non-promotion and of R21-requirements for gay events.

In one particular instance, a concert by a gay couple was banned simply because the organizers did not want to have the R21 classification. The organizers argued that the concert was organized in support of some AIDS foundation and that they had already sold tickets to people under the age of 21 and hence did not want the R21 classification. Therefore, the concert was banned.

As for the NATION party, there havve been conclusive studes to show that there are many people who are HIV positive attend these parties and the social interaction the happens after the party would be disastrous, hence the ban. In fact, many other countries which organise similar parties are considering not organising them.

Recently, there was a gay and lesbian pride month named INDIGNATION, which showcased healthy events like poetry reading and the works, hence it was left untouched.

(Yawning Bread has not edited this excerpt in any way, thus some spelling mistakes have been carried over)

There are three points in there that I wish to take up: Nurture-bias, Indignation, and lastly, the concert. But before that, I wish to remind readers to always bear in mind that Soulgroove might have misheard, or that the report might have left out a point of two that Balaji might have made. So in this discussion, everything is contingent on the accuracy of the report.


Balaji himself is familiar with the latest scientific research about how heterosexuality and homosexuality comes about. He made a speech back in 2002 (See the article Junior minister notes gay sheep) mentioning research that produced homosexual rams.

The Sunday Times quoted him as saying (with reference to humans),

Research has also shown that the brain of homosexuals is structurally different from heterosexuals. It is likely therefore that the homosexual tendency is imprinted in the brain in utero and homosexuals must live with the tendencies that they inherit as a result of the structural changes in their brain.

-- Sunday Times, 1 December 2002

In other words, some people are born gay, just as others are born straight. There is a growing mountain of research that points to this, which he himself acknowledged in the 2002 speech. In contrast, science has produced not a scrap of evidence to support the "nurture" belief, despite 100 years of well-funded, ideologically-driven attempts in pursuit of this explanation.

If there are tons of evidence that the Earth is round and not a scrap of evidence that it is flat, what are you supposed to believe? Of course there'll be people that will say, "What evidence?" and continue to insist that their belief is as good as anyone else's. But just because they're ignorant of the evidence doesn't mean that the evidence doesn't exist.

Coming back to Balaji's 2006 speech, he made it clear that the State itself is resolutely refusing to take into account scientific evidence, preferring to think that "The jury is still out on whether it is NATURE vs NURTURE," as reported by Soulgroove. [See also addendum 1]


The "committee" referred to in Balaji's speech is not named in the report of the speech, but described by Soulgroove as "a committee, made up of everyday, ordinary Singaporeans who come in and make the decisions."

Yawning Bread knows from experience with the Media Development Authority  (MDA) that it isn't as "democratic" as that. Even the MDA's own website makes it clear that MDA civil servants (and their political masters) make the decisions. Only in borderline cases are applications for permits referred to an Arts Consultative Panel, whose opinions are not binding on the civil servants and the minister.


Furthermore, the State assumes that "impressionable" minds can be turned homosexual through exposure to the very idea of it, and this is the basis for censorship. But when the basis for censorship is so flimsy, and yet that censorship is insisted upon in violation of others' right of free expression, it is undeniable that the State is driven by discriminatory intent.


It was a bit of a surprise for Balaji to mention IndigNation, for I had thought that the government would have wanted to avoid acknowledging that it existed, especially as People Like Us is behind it. 

On the other hand, it is true that the Media Development Authority (MDA) which comes under the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, had explicitly given their approval to 3 of the IndigNation events this year: an art exhibition, a dramatised play-reading and a poetry recital (the last for the 2nd year in a row), so I suppose, pretence is no longer necessary. (Other IndigNation events did not require permits).

All three of these approved events were rated R18, which is quite usual when arts events have gay themes. This brings me to....

The concert

I believe Balaji was referring to the Affect05 concert featuring singing duo Jason and deMarco (picture below) when he made his speech at SMU. I have previously written about this issue in 2005. See the essay Sirenes who will turn you gay.

In the latest speech Balaji implied (assuming the blog report is accurate) that the MDA offered the organisers an R21 rating for the concert, but the organisers rejected it, ostensibly on the basis that tickets had already been sold to some people under 21. It was therefore alleged that the organisers brought the ban upon themselves by rejecting MDA's compromise.

I am informed by the organisers that this is not true. In their communication with the MDA in March 2005, MDA officials made no mention of the possibility of an R21 rating. A perusal of the appeal letter that the organisers sent to the MICA minister, Lee Boon Yang, (see appendix) supports this contention. You'll see that it contains no discussion of R21 either. 

Secondly, as far as I know, there is no such thing as an R21 rating for arts events. R21 only exists for film. For the arts, the highest rating is R18, which includes events with gay themes. So how could the MDA have offered the concert organisers an R21 rating, as Balaji implied, when such a classification does not exist?

I wrote to Balaji on Monday night (18 Sept 2006) seeking his comments, which I would have wished to include here. Perhaps he was misquoted, I asked? It is now Wednesday night (20 Sept 2006) as I am writing this, and I have not yet had a response. I will add it as an addendum when received.

Yawning Bread 


Example: Suppose the State insists that you may not hold placards on a street, on the reasoning that displaying placards will lead to riots and terrorism. If there is not a scrap of evidence of such cause and effect, do you think the ban on placards is reasonable and rational? Or that it is motivated by baser instincts?





  1. In email communication with me, blogger Soulgroove expanded on what Balaji had said. The minister said something along the lines that most Singaporean families still believed in the Nurture part and so, the government was acting in accordance with what parents would have wanted -- that is non-promotion. Balaji didn't cite any statistics or studies to support his claim of "most Singaporean families".
    To that, Soulgroove's comment was that, if true, then perhaps one could blame it on the continued "conservativeness" of society. Which could only be overcome by education, but which we can't have, because it would be "promoting homosexuality" and the vicious cycle starts all over again. "Which is seriously sad," noted Soulgroove.
    Balaji stressed that, in matters of censorship, the government was acting in accordance with what the larger society would want. But how would they know this? The answer was The Committee. This, he insisted, was representative of the population of Singaporeans. No further information was given about this committee though, said Soulgroove.
    Ah, it's clearer now. Yawning Bread now believes that Balaji was referring to the Censorship Review Committee 2003, whose remit was to review censorship guidelines. See the article Censorship review - a bit more loosening, for the wrong reasons 
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