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Podcast ban and regulation of blogs in Singapore

Categories: East Asia, Singapore, Digital Activism, Elections, Freedom of Speech, Politics, Technology

Back in August, 2005 when Dr. Chee Soon Juan [1], Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party [2] (SDP), first talked of his political platform in a podcast, the Atypical Singaporean commented in his blog [3]:

There is possibly zero chance for Opposition Parties to be heard on local radio and TV, and Podcasting (and Blogging) is possibly the best way for any person/organization wanting to be heard.

Clearly, the opposition is aware of that fact and it has been utilizing alternative media to do what it cannot in mainstream media. Just recently [4], Singabloodypore confirmed [5] Chemical Generation Singapore’s speculations [6] that one of Singabloodypore’s bloggers is, in fact, the President of the Young Democrats in the Singapore Democratic Party.

The government is not unaware of the power of alternative media either. When documentary filmmaker Martyn See produced Singapore Rebel, a 26-minute movie about Chee Soon Juan's acts of civil disobedience, it was banned [7] from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival and See was placed under investigation [8] for violation of the Films Act for knowingly distributing or exhibiting a “party political film”–and it was not even election season.

Political videocasts have been previously banned. Now, there's the podcast ban and the regulation of political content on blogs.

When Channel News Asia published a report [9] with Singaporean Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan saying that podcasts were excluded from the “positive list” of allowable election advertising, reactions varied. Asiapundit declared it wasn't exactly a repression of free speech because private citizens could still give their political speeches [10] in the free speech zone. Kevin of Theory.IsTheReason [11] and Bob of Politics in the Zeroes [12] both observe that only the SDP has been using podcasts for political reasons. Singapore Election Watch published a statement of SDP's Chee Jooj Juan saying that the opposition feels it is the only real target of the ban [13].

Other bloggers do not view the situation as one merely affecting oppositionist political parties. The vague generalizations can be problematic. Mr. Brown [14] is not sure what “explicitly political content” means. Yawning Bread says with the broad definition of “election advertising” under the Parliamentary Elections Act, “there's not a lot that we are allowed to say.” [15]

Deadpoet's Cave [16] reacts to Dr. Balaji's statement that “individual bloggers can discuss politics, but have to register with the Media Development Authority if they persistently promote political views.” He says:

If it is election advertising that is to be specifically (or should I say broadly?) restricted, shouldn’t this be rephrased as promoting political parties?

After all, people have many political views regarding a range of topics. Some views may fall in line with the ruling party. Some views may be more in line with contrary opinion. Some may even be totally off-tangent: original views and analysis which have not been aired anywhere else. Opinionated posts about almost anything could be construed as promoting a political view.

What are bloggers to do? All register?

That would seem so based on Darkholme‘s observation that Dr. Balaji's statement makes it clear [17] that “people… should not hide behind the anonymity of the internet, to manipulate public opinion.” But the anonymity issue is challenged by Mr. Wang who says “the true identities of Singapore's prominent bloggers are hardly ever a secret anyway” [18]. Avalon poses and even bigger challenge by saying there is no such thing as anonymity in Singapore [19]to begin with becuase “Singaporeans are at most three-degrees apart from every other stranger, our paw prints are all over the Singaporean cyberspace…”

Some bloggers respond with action. IZReloaded defies [20] the Singapore government and puts up a link to his own podcast. Cloudywind does the same [21]. But the Solitaire Joker [22] sums up the situation as a dilemma.

But realistically, what would you choose?

The right to shoot your mouth off about virtually anything in Singapore politics?

Or the peace of mind that you get from knowing that you will be undisturbed taking a downtown stroll in Singapore at extremely late hours?

Choose. And choose wisely.