Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Rating system comes under fire at book fair

RESTRICTION Protesters said that, although `R'-rated books will be allowed at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, the rating system still constituted censorship

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

A protester blindfolds herself in front of the World Trade Center in Taipei to protest the government's new rating system on reading materials.

PHOTO: CNA

As the annual Taipei International Book Exhibition opened yesterday, anti-censorship advocates denounced the government's decision to allow "R"-rated books at the show as an empty gesture and demanded that the policy of rating publications be discarded.

"Although the Government Information Office [GIO] permits `R'-rated books at the exhibition, the absurd rating regulation still exists, violating the public's freedom to read," said Wu Min-hsuan (吳銘軒), spokesperson of the coalition.

Led by a group calling themselves the Coalition Against Pseudo-Rating Regulation, a small contingent of protesters with placards demonstrated in front of the World Trade Center in Taipei, where the exhibition is being held, chanting slogans such as "Freedom to read," "Censorship kills democracy," and "Hands off my books."

The coalition, which was formed last year after the government introduced the new rating system for publications, said the system is a form of censorship which violates the freedom to literary and artistic expression.

According to Wu, the rating system intimidates publishers, authors and readers, and could have a negative effect on the annual exhibition.

"How can the exhibition reach its goal of being an international forum for literature exchange if works from former Nobel laureates such as J.M. Coetzee and Toni Morrison may be banned or restricted for containing language of a violent or sexual nature?" he said.

According to Wu, GIO Director-General Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) has admitted that the new regulation can be more clearly defined, and consulted academics, publication industry leaders and child welfare groups to solicit their opinions.

However, Wu said the changeable policy only reflected the GIO's unwillingness to improve the rating system.

"Since the announcement of the new rating system, there hasn't been any revision of regulations. In addition, the GIO should hold public hearings or forums to discuss the new measure with readers, instead of negotiating privately with the publishing industry," he said.

According to the Measure Governing the Rating Systems of Publications and Pre-recorded Video Programs (出版品及錄影節目帶分級辦法), which officially took effect on Dec. 1, restricted publications should be sealed and carry a label on the cover reading "R rated: Not available for those 18 or under."

Violators of the regulation face fines of between NT$100,000 and NT$500,000. Serious offenders can be forced to suspend publication for anything from a month to a year.

After a deluge of criticism from the publishing industry, which described the rating system as "harsh" and "vaguely defined," the GIO has suspended the issuance of fines for violations until July 1. It also reversed its earlier decision that "R"-rated books would be banned from the exhibition. However, labels and seals are still required for those books.

Linda Huang (黃詠梅), a member of the coalition, said that "problematic" publications should be labeled to prevent young people reading or watching them, but that she did not think it was a good idea to impose a rating system.

J.J. Lai (賴正哲), owner of Gin Gin (晶晶書店), a bookstore in Taipei specializing in gay and lesbian literature, agreed that a softer approach may have better effects.

"It is impossible to keep teenagers away from all publications containing sex or violence. Providing more sex education would be better than banning young people from being exposed to sexual content, which may only cause more curiosity," Lai said.

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