Singapore plans to require bloggers to reveal sponsors

The Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore is thinking of drafting a new guideline that would require bloggers to reveal if they receive gifts or money for their articles. This proposed “stricter disclosure rule” will “protect consumers by enabling them to make an informed assessment about what they read.”

Tham Yuen-C believes enforcing such rule is impossible

Yet, enforcement will be almost impossible.

With so many bloggers opining about anything from restaurants to running shoes to handbags, the agencies in charge of policing the blogs have their work cut out for them.

There will also be many things to pin down, such as who a blogger is, what qualifies as a blog and which legal jurisdiction a person would fall under if he or she were, say, a Singaporean blogger living in London.

Even in the media industry, where there are rules and the threat of dismissal for breaking them, mandating credibility is not an easy task. What more in the nebulous world of the Internet?

She advises authorities to focus on “regulating the practice (of deceptive advertising) and not the medium (of blogs and new media).”

For example, while it will be hard to track all blog posts and bloggers, it should be easier to police companies that use new media channels to make self-serving claims under a cloak of partiality, and the advertising companies that broker these deals.

The Temasek Review agrees that Singapore can’t implement the new ruling:

Given the borderless and anonymous nature of cyberspace, it will be almost impossible for MDA to enforce the rule unless bloggers disclose the information voluntarily.

The author speculates that the real agenda of the MDA is to hurt the financial viability of socio-political blogs:

The real agenda behind the move, however, is probably to deter potential donors from funding and supporting bloggers, especially socio-political blogs with a high readership like ours.

At the present moment, only our site, The Online Citizen and the website of the Singapore Democratic Party accept donations from readers.

If such a rule is indeed promulgated, donations for socio-political blogs will surely dry up because few Singaporeans will dare to have their identities revealed to MDA that they have been supporting sites which are critical of the government.

In the long run, this will have a detrimental impact on the growth and development of the new media in Singapore, especially for popular sites with a sizable readership but hampered by limited funding.

An anonymous commenter believes that netizens should do their own policing:

If ppl get paid to write good things on eg food, spa, etc, consumers will know sooner or later. A better developed media will ensure this fake writeups will be exposed. Let the netizens do their own policing.

Don’t overreact, Silenceisgolden comments:

Lets not over react in this matter. I think bloggers will probably be required to make a statement somewhere within their site that to say that they are being paid for blogging.

Another commenter, Ree, cites an example on how consumers will benefit from the MDA ruling:

Am I being very naive in thinking that the reason MDA wants to implement this is for the benefit of consumers?

To put it very simply, isn’t this just like those long Home Shopping Network ads where there is a disclosure stating that it is a PAID advertisement we are watching?

Commenting in The Online Citizen, HL welcomes the proposal but is pessimistic if Singapore can enforce the guideline:

The declaration would help to state up front where the blogger is coming from. Might not necessarily mean what the blogger writes is or has to be biased towards the sponsor. The decision then becomes a more informed one for the readers, and overall improved health on info reliability. This, I welcome.

The only issue is how best to effect this. Direct regulation is difficult, and not just because of the “vastness” of cyberspace. Someone mentioned taxation, and that’s a good example of a stumbling block – mountains need to be moved before MDA and IRAS can come to some agreement on how to plug this potential policy blackhole – i.e. who collects the taxes, who polices, etc.

Miss Dotty clarifies that MDA may be replicating the move of the Federal Trade Commission in the United States which recently amended its guidelines. But Miss Dotty questions the inclusion of blogs in the proposed ruling

Since the government keeps claiming that there is only lies and disinformation in the internet; this should prompt us all to ask; then what’s the basis to even demand blogs to fully disclose their association with firms should they decide to write favorably or negatively about products or services? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Uncle Sha notes that it is up to the individual blogger to disclose his/her sponsors

I guess sooner or later the law is catching up on cyberspace. From my own opinion and perception, such policy was only brought up as MDA wants more control, and IRA wants to tax us twice instead of once a year. Well that’s just me lah.

I myself disclose if I do receive remuneration for my blog posting, but I know many bloggers out there who don’t. So there’s an issues of transparency with their entries.

All I can say, in cyberspace you can play hide and seek all you want without getting caught, even with such policy in place, it’s really up to the individual blogger if they want to disclose.

FOOD fuels me to talk also asks if there is need to expand the coverage of the ruling to include paid bloggers who “damn all things about Singapore”

IMHO, I think MDA shouldn’t blindly introduce rules just because the US is doing so. Rather, if we want rules, we should have them, whether the US does so or not.

Moreover, disclosures shouldn’t just be imposed because they go to show a blogger’s bias. They should also be there to help IRAS track income, if indeed, as boasted by the occasional blogger that he/she is pulling in a 4-figure monthly income through blogging.

And more controversially, what about bloggers who damn all things about Singapore, all the time? Shouldn’t they be made to confirm that it’s just that they have a negative disposition; not because someone is sponsoring their ascorbic outpourings?

The(new)mediaslut wants the same ruling to apply to traditional media

On the end of the spectrum, how about journalists declaring the gifts and junkets they go on to cover certain events for vendors?

If MDA decides to put such a ruling on bloggers or New Media as the government likes to call it, why not put in the same ruling traditional media too?

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