The Board of Film Censors (BFC), established by the Films Act of 1981, is a subsidiary of the Media Development Authority (MDA) and is responsible for classifying films and videos under the Films Act. It comprises a chairman and a group of classifiers responsible for assessing films, videos and games submitted to the BFC.
The classification is carried out according to the Board of Film Censors Classification Guidelines drawn up in consultation with the community and industry. A downloadable PDF of the document is available from the MDA website:. These guidelines seek to reflect the social norms and values of Singapore’s multi-racial society.
Over the years, Singapore has moved away from censorship to classification. This means that the BFC classifies content into age-appropriate ratings. Classification allows films to be suitably rated for different audiences so the public can have greater access to a wider range of media choices without compromising on the need to protect young children from undesirable content.
The journey to classification began with just three ratings when it was first introduced in 1991 but there are now six ratings for films and videos. To complement these ratings, consumer advice is also provided where necessary to give the public an indication of the content themes in a particular show.
Classification was also expanded to games with the introduction of Video Games Classification system in April 2008.
Classification allows films to be rated for different audiences here.
Films and videos share the same classification rating system except that for videos sold in the market, ratings are up to M18 only.
General Suitable for all ages.
Parental Guidance Suitable for all but parents should guide their young.
Parental Guidance 13 Suitable for persons aged 13 and above but parental guidance is advised for children below 13.
No Children under 16 Suitable for persons aged 16 and above.
Mature 18 Suitable for persons aged 18 and above.
Restricted 21 Suitable for adults aged 21 and above. Evolution of the films and videos classification rating system over the years
Films and videos classification was introduced in July 1991 in Singapore with three ratings to indicate the suitability of the content for viewers of different age groups – G (General), PG (Parental Guidance) and R18 (Restricted to 18 years and above). Singapore previously relied on a one-tier system where films and videos were either approved – or edited – for release or disallowed.
Various improvements were made to the system over the years. The R18 rating was changed to Restricted (Artistic) in September 1991. In 1993, a new rating – NC16 (No Children under 16) was introduced to protect children from viewing films thematically unsuitable for them, and to bridge the gap between PG and R21. In 2004, the M18 rating was added to provide more choices for young adults. A PG13 rating was later added in 2011, on the recommendation of the Censorship Review Committee. G, PG and PG13 are advisory ratings and are not age restrictive. This means parents can exercise their discretion as to whether they would want their young children to watch these films.
Today, the multi-tier system provides a clear indication to adult viewers and parents on the suitability of a film or video so that a more informed choice can be made.
Considerations in classification
When classifying content, classifiers look at the theme, content, presentation and impact of the film as a whole while taking the following factors into consideration:
Drug and Substance Abuse
The Film Classification Guidelines (PDF) may be downloaded here:.
Classification & Vetting Process
Films and videos are rated by the Board of Film Censors (BFC).
The classification and vetting process is as follows:
Step 1: A film distributor or a video company submits a film for classification.
Step 2: The BFC assesses and classifies the content accordingly. For controversial titles, the BFC will consult the Films Consultative Panel (FCP) to gather more feedback and views prior to making a classification decision.
Step 3: The distributor/video company is then informed of the rating, consumer advice (if any) and reasons behind the rating of the film/video.
Film distributors may either accept the BFC's rating or choose to edit the film to meet the guidelines for a lower rating, without affecting the film's storyline or theme.
Classification guidelines also apply to additional supplements or bonus materials that may be found alongside the film in a Blu-ray, DVD or VCD. Examples of supplements or bonus materials are short films, trailers, deleted scenes or a behind-the-scenes segment into the making of a film.
There are instances where the supplements or bonus materials may contain elements such as sex, nudity, drug use or violence, resulting in a higher rating than the film.
For example, the film Kung Fu Panda was rated PG when it was shown in cinemas. However, if the bonus materials in its DVD, which could include trailers for other movies, contain content that exceeds PG, it will be given a higher rating. Consumers can distinguish the difference between the rating of the film that is released for screening and that of the bonus materials by referring to the consumer advice on the packaging.
This is an example of packaging:.
Avenues for appeal
In the event that film distributors or video companies do not agree with the rating issued by BFC, they may appeal to the Films Appeal Committee (FAC), a panel of 15 members of the public, who represent a cross-section of society.
A representative from the film or video company has the option of making an in-person appeal to the FAC. The BFC will also explain to the FAC how it arrived at its rating. The FAC, whose decision is final, then views the film and makes the decision to either uphold or overrule the BFC's decision.
Consumer advice is provided to allow the public to make informed choices.
All films and videos rated PG13, and those with age-restrictive ratings (NC16 and above) offer consumer advice alongside the classification rating. For example, a film rated M18 may have a consumer advice of "Sexual Scenes" or "Violence and Gore". Selected PG-rated films may also carry the consumer advice "Horror" or "Some Coarse Language".
Consumer advice and ratings should be reflected on a film's publicity materials and promotional trailers where available.
Please visit this link to view the standard list of consumer advice descriptors, and visit this link to view an example of consumer advice on a video packaging.
Edited versions of videos
Video distributors have the option and flexibility to bring in videos from different regions, allowing them to cater to various market segments and age groups with different versions of the same title.
An edited version of a video may contain edits made by the studios, producers or filmmaker. They may also be one of the several versions released in different parts of the world.
The BFC requires companies that import such versions into Singapore to make it clear that they are, in fact, edited versions. Hence, industry players such as video distributors need to ensure that such information is displayed as part of consumer advice on the packaging.
Please visit this link to view an example of consumer advice for an edited version of a video.
Guidelines for Edited Version of Videos
With the implementation of the “Classify All-Content” Policy in August 2008, video distributors have the option and flexibility to bring in videos from different regions, allowing them to cater to various market segments and age groups by offering different versions of the same title.
Please click here to view Guidelines for Edited Version of Videos.
Guidelines for Box-Set Submissions
Video distributors need to only affix one rating certificate for box-set submissions. A label specification guide for box-sets has been designed to assist video distributors in providing clear and consistent labelling on box sets.
Please click here to view Guidelines for Box-Set Submissions.
Videos Exempted from Classification
Typically, all videos meant for distribution in Singapore need to be classified and certified before they reach the market. Currently, videos are classified up to the rating of M18. However, certain types of videos are exempted from classification.
Exemptions are a co-regulatory effort between the BFC and the industry, whereby companies decide whether a video to be distributed may be eligible for exemption. This process has video distributors, companies or individuals undertaking a declaration that the content of the video they are importing/distributing is innocuous and in accordance with exemption guidelines.Additionally, the applicant can search the Films Classification Database to check if the title has been approved and classified for exemption. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the applicant to go through the content and ensure that the video falls within the exemption categories and guidelines.
Examples of the exemption categories are:
Educational, Current Affairs or Training Materials
Advertising and promotional materials (excluding promotional clips of non-exempted videos and film trailers)
Arts and cultural performances
Local TV Programmes broadcasted in Singapore
Quiz and Game Shows
exemption categories & guidelines
Distributors, companies or individuals may declare videos in the exempted categories for exemption from classification. To qualify for exemption from classification, a video must fulfill two criteria. Firstly, it must fall within one of the exemption categories. Secondly, it must not contain any impermissible content listed in the exemption guidelines. For example, a documentary containing tribal nudity cannot be exempt from classification as it breaches the exemption guidelines, although it falls within the exemption category of a ‘documentary’.
Note: Exemptions are applicable to video distribution only. Any title that is meant to exhibition requires classification.
Licensed Video Importer/Makers
Video companies and/or retailers are required to affix an exemption number to all titles that are exempt from classification. In November 2013, an exemption label was introduced to assist consumers in making informed decisions and to distinguish between content that has been classified by the Board and content that has been exempt from classification. While MDA accepts indication of just the exemption number, companies and retailers are encouraged to include both the exemption label and number on the packaging and/or casing of the video title.
Companies can download the Video Exemption Label Specification Guide here.
Please visit this link to view an example of exemptions packaging.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does it matter if I submit a video for classification to the MDA which might be exempt? Why did MDA introduce the exemption label? Do I have to affix the exemption label if the exemption number is indicated on the packaging? The FAQ will help to answer some of your questions.
Consumers who come across content that they feel should not have been exempted from classification may write in to MDA Online Feedback.
MDA has launched a pilot Co-Classification Scheme in July 2011 which allows video companies with certified content assessors to co-classify video that are rated G, PG and PG13. The intent of this pilot scheme is to facilitate a faster turnaround for video classification and to develop industry capability by training a pool of content assessors who are familiar in interpreting the classification guidelines.
In partnership with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Singapore Media Academy (SMA), MDA developed a comprehensive training programme which includes practical application and interpretation of the Films Classification Guidelines. Participants are certified as Content Assessors (CA) after passing an assessment held at the end of the training course. Refresher training courses are held on an annual basis for certified content assessors to stay updated on content guidelines and standards.
Print Publicity Materials
Publicity materials for films and videos include posters, DVD sleeves and packaging, banners or billboards. Marketing collaterals are self-regulated by the industry but distributors and companies are required to observe certain guidelines.
Industry players should consider the following when developing their promotional campaign and displaying their materials:
standards of decency and propriety generally accepted by community
overall impact of the materials and their content
location / placement of materials
Some areas of concern that industry players should bear in mind are:
use of coarse language
depiction of nudity
sexual acts or suggestions
violence and gore
Once a film is classified, posters displayed at public places should clearly display its rating and consumer advice, if any. If the film or video has not been classified, the publicity materials should carry the words "Rating to be advised" and subsequently, be updated when the rating is made available.
The display of posters and banners for R21 films should be restricted to cinema lobbies. Sensitivity should also be exercised in the marketing and dissemination of publicity materials for NC16 and M18 films.
For more details on the guidelines for publicity materials, please visit this link.
If members of the public are offended by the publicity material for a film or video, and feel they are in breach of MDA's guidelines , they can submit their feedback here.
All promotional trailers of films must be submitted for classification to the BFC. Distributors/companies should observe the guidelines for publicity materials when displaying such advertisements on outdoor video walls, television displays at cinema lobbies and/or other public areas.
Promotional trailers are classified and rated the same way as films and videos.
Suitability for audiences
Most trailers are suitable for viewing by general audiences. However, to protect the young from viewing content that are not suitable for their age, trailers that depict some horror, mild coarse language or violence should not be shown with a movie targeted at children.
Promotional trailers of films rated R21 should not be screened with films of lower rating. Trailers classified specifically as NC16 and above can only be exhibited to persons who meet the stipulated age requirement.
Simultaneous Rating System (SRS)
MDA introduced the Simultaneous Rating System (SRS) for films with effect from 15 November 2013. The new Simultaneous Rating System allows different versions of a film to be screened concurrently at the discretion of the film distributor to cater to different audience segments. The intent is to enable consumers to choose upfront the version of the film they would prefer to watch.
Removal of the one-week window period
Under the previous Sequential Dual Rating System, film distributors may screen a second version of a film under a new rating, provided the second run starts at least a week after the film’s first run has ended. This one-week window period requirement has been removed under the Simultaneous Rating System.
As part of the policy review, MDA had sought feedback from the industry. Most the film distributors and exhibitors saw merit in retaining a system that allows films of different ratings to be screened but proposed that the one-week window period requirement be removed as it breaks the momentum and box office sales for films, especially those which are gaining high traction. The removal of the one-week window period would also reduce business costs as advertising and promotion of the different versions of the film can be done in tandem. Film distributors and exhibitors further felt that they will be able to put in place measures to prevent the underage from inadvertently accessing age restricted films. Taking their views into consideration, the MDA reviewed the policy to remove the one-week window period.
To ensure that the audiences watch the appropriately-rated films, film distributors have to work with cinema exhibitors to help consumers make an informed choice. The availability of the different versions of the film must be made known in all publicity materials and at point of sales. These should be extended to all marketing and sales platforms used by cinema exhibitors, including online and mobile ticketing portals. As usual, age checks have to be carried out for audience watching a film with age restrictions.
Cinema exhibitors have the option of introducing additional measures such as programming different versions of the film at different cineplex locations, or scheduling different versions of the film at different time slots within the same cineplex as precautionary measures to ensure the underage audiences do not gain access to films with age restrictions.
Film distributors and cinema exhibitors are required to keep MDA informed in advance of their intent to exhibit a film under different ratings and measures they have put in place to ensure that the underage do not inadvertently access age restricted films. Film distributors/exhibitors should also advertise the availability of different versions of the film to help consumers make an informed choice.
MDA will conduct compliance checks to ensure that film exhibitors comply with age restrictions imposed. Non-compliance will be a breach of licence conditions with penalties applicable.
For more information on Submission Guidelines for Simultaneous Rating System, please visit this link.
To better understand the Simultaneous Rating System, please refer to the list of FAQs. If you have further questions, please call MDA’s Customer Service Hotline at 1800 478 5478.
Revisions to Submission Requirements and Classification Fees
New Initiatives for Video Industry
In our continuing drive to provide the industry with better service, MDA will be introducing the following video initiatives in two phases: Phase 1 on 28 January 2013 and Phase 2 in end-February 2013.
Phase 1: Effective 28 January 2013
(I) Content Assessor (CA) Submissions
Licensed video distributors will only pay an administrative fee of $10.00 for each title submitted by a certified content assessor under the Content Assessor (CA) scheme. There will no longer be the need to pay the classification fee of $10.00 per half hour. Certification fee of $0.80 per certificate will continue to apply.
CA submissions are titles which fall within a PG13 rating and are so declared by a certified content assessor.
(II) Repeat Title (RT) Submissions
Repeat Titles are those for which an identical record already exists in the Board of Film Censors' (BFC) Films Classification Database. For such titles, all video distributors will need to submit a declaration that the content is identical to that approved by the BFC, as is the current process. No classification fees will be applicable but video distributors will pay an administrative fee of $10.00 for each title submitted. Certification fee of $0.80 per certificate will continue to apply.
(III) Submission of Edited Content for TV Serials and Box-sets
Licensed video distributors may now submit only the specific edited episode of a TV serial or an edited film in a box-set for classification. The existing classification fee of $10.00 per half hour will apply to the edited episode or edited film. The specific episode/film which had been edited must be indicated in the submission form together with the In-Receipt Number of the TV serial or box-set of the original submission.
(IV) Exemption of Pre-1980s TV Serials
A new exempted category has been introduced for pre-1980s TV serials. Video distributors are to use the expanded exempted category "VM" for declaration of TV serials produced before 1980. Currently, only films produced before 1966 are exempted from classification under this category. Titles declared for exemption are pegged to a General standard as specified in the Film Classification Guidelines. Please refer to the list of revised Exemption Categories and accompanying requirements for details.
Phase 2: Effective 28 February 2013
(V) Submission of Classified Titles with New Extra Features
A new submission type has been introduced on 28 February 2013. This is to cater for titles which comprise a main feature, which had been previously classified, and extra features which contain unclassified content.
Video distributors are required to declare that the content of the main feature is identical to that previously approved by the BFC, with the relevant information specified such as the title, the rating, the duration, cast, etc. Classification fee of $10.00 per half hour will apply for the extra features only. Certification fee of $0.80 per certificate will also apply. The classification rating for the title will take the highest rating issued, whether for the feature or extra features.
RT and CA Submissions
MDA would like to encourage the industry to ensure that all submissions for Repeat Titles and CA submissions are fully and accurately completed to facilitate processing. Incomplete and inaccurate submissions will be rejected.
To facilitate understanding, please refer to the list of FAQs on the revisions. If you have further questions, please call our Customer Service Hotline at 1800 478 5478.
Declaration of Content Concerns Initiative
The Declaration of Content Concerns Initiative was introduced in August 2008.
It presents video companies and organisations an option to participate in co-classification by allowing them to highlight content concerns (i.e. violence, language, nudity, etc) to the Board of Film Censors (BFC).
Companies and organisations are also encouraged to recommend ratings for their submissions. The option to declare content concerns is part of the online submission process.
The Declaration of Content Concerns Initiative is a form of co-regulation and part of the pro-enterprise initiatives being rolled out for the video industry, to facilitate faster clearance of titles and offer greater content choices to consumers and companies.
These initiatives are built on MDA's stand to regulate, to promote, and to create an environment where companies are encouraged to participate in co-regulation.