Singapore’s new licensing scheme for news websites announced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) was quickly denounced by many netizens as a censorship measure. A group of concerned netizens called the ‘Free My Internet’ movement has called on the public to join a rally this coming Saturday, June 8, 2013, to demand the withdrawal of the controversial regulation.
Under the new rule, news websites that report on Singapore and which have 50,000 unique IP views a month must secure a license. Further, they must put up a ‘performance bond’ of $50,000. It also has this provision which angered and worried many netizens:
The Licence also makes it clear that online news sites are expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards.
So far, the government has identified 10 websites, including Yahoo! Singapore, which are covered by the ruling.
We encourage all Singaporeans who are concerned about our future and our ability to participate in everyday online activities and discussions, and to seek out alternative news and analysis, to take a strong stand against the licensing regime which can impede on your independence.
A petition warned Singapore bloggers that they could still be affected by the ruling despite the assurance of the government that bloggers are exempted from the measure:
Even though MDA said that blogs do not fall under the licensing scheme, this is not reflected in the wording of the legislation. It leaves the door open for blogs or any other site to be forced to license in the future without any change in the law.
Socio political bloggers and commentators issued this joint statement:
As part of the community of websites in Singapore that provide sociopolitical news and analysis to Singaporeans, we are concerned about the impact of the newly-introduced requirement on fellow Singaporeans’ ability to receive diverse news information.
The new licensing regime has the very real potential to reduce the channels available to Singaporeans to receive news and analysis of the sociopolitical situation in Singapore and it is in the interest of all Singaporeans to guard against the erosion and availability of news channels that Singaporeans should rightfully have access to.
Responding to the barrage of criticism, the MDA insisted that the license scheme is fair:
An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting.
…content guidelines are focused on core content concerns that would threaten the social fabric and national interests of our country. Examples include content that incites racial or religious hatred; misleads and causes mass panic; or advocates or promotes violence.
The framework is not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites
visakan veerasamy notes that the MDA scheme has unified Singapore netizens:
Maybe a few years from now the MDA licensing thing will be remembered as the issue that got bloggers and alt-news agencies coming together against a common threat to have a national conversation of their own.
They propose a terrible idea, and then piss off the masses enough to inspire a co-ordinated response. Boom, active and engaged citizenry. This is great for Singapore.
It is a draconian measure, writes Jentrified Citizen:
The Government is well aware of the power of the Internet and how it is fast igniting the people’s conscience and socio-political consciousness. This is why they are trying to cut off our oxygen with more draconian measures. And they are in a position to do so as they have absolute power and control over almost everything in tiny Singapore.
Because of vague wording in the ruling, a popular news blog can still be ordered to apply for license. It all depends on the MDA. Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss is not happy with this authority given to MDA:
It is discomforting that the Minister has the discretion, the limits of which is still unclear, to decide whether and when a website should be licensed.
Z’ming Cik warns about the impact of the scheme on political blogging:
The new rules will serve to deter bloggers in Singapore from discussing social and political issues, and encourage people to blog about facial cream or their pet dogs instead.
This would presumably help create a ‘safe’ environment for the ruling party’s continual domination in Singapore, free from criticisms.
publichouse.sg argues why Singaporeans should oppose the measure:
…because this new rule affects not only moderators and contributors of online news sites but also their readers, all Singaporeans should fight to protect their rights and voice their opposition of the rule. It is most certainly not in the interest of the people to have what they read censored or controlled, especially when the primary purpose of online news sites is to provide alternatives to the mainstream media.
Siew Kum Hong fears that the regulation would further hurt the image of Singapore in the world:
This new regulation is a mistake, and reinforces the perception that Singapore is a repressive place — which is precisely the wrong message to be sending to a globalised and networked world, when you are trying to build an innovative and creative economy where freedom of thought is so essential.