On Thursday, June 6th, if you tried to access Expat Bostonians all you saw was a blacked out screen with a notice about a protest tomorrow in Hong Lim Park with the hashtag #freemyinternet.
I chose to black out my blog and join the online protest because I am very disturbed by the new MDA licensing regulations. According to this article I was one of 130+ who did.
If you don’t know already, the MDA licensing regulations state
Ten online news sites that report regularly on Singapore and have significant reach will be required to follow the same regulatory framework as traditional media.
According to a statement issued by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on Tuesday, the 10 online news sites, which include sg.news.yahoo.com, will from Saturday need an individual licence just as traditional news platforms now have. Currently, the online news sites only have a class licence under the Broadcasting Act.
The new licence 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, the Singapore media regulator said.
The sites will also be required to put up a performance bond of S$50,000, like all other individually-licensed broadcasters.
MDA said the new licence provides greater clarity on prevailing requirements within the Class Licence and Internet Code of Practice, and also explains what would be considered “prohibited content” in the existing Internet Code of Practice – content that undermines racial or religious harmony, for example.
“As the sites are already subject to these requirements, no change in content standards is expected to result,” MDA said.
Under the licensing framework, online news sites will be individually licensed if they report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months.
When the licensing framework is launched, MDA said it will be issuing licensing notifications for the following ten sites: asiaone.com, businesstimes.com.sg, channelnewsasia.com, omy.sg, sg.news.yahoo.com, stomp.com.sg, straitstimes.com, tnp.sg, todayonline.com and zaobao.com.
Aside from the Yahoo! Singapore news site, all the other nine sites are run by Singapore’s two biggest media groups, MediaCorp and Singapore Press Holdings. (source)
However, this does feel like it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Economist is reporting that Singapore has every intention of expanding this framework.
Yacoob Ibrahim, the communications minister, told reporters that the move provided “some form of parity between online news sites and traditional mainstream media newspapers and TV broadcasters.” On the face of it, that might make sense. Why shouldn’t online media be subject to the same regulations as those that pertain to other media platforms? Well, apart from the fact that those existing regulations have resulted in Singapore’s abysmal ranking in the world’s league tables for press freedom—it comes 149th out of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ list; 153rd out of 197 countries in Freedom House’s. Licensing aside, content online is already subject to laws concerning libel and slander; incitement to public disorder; sedition; and more.
“What the authorities call “light-touch” regulation has been replaced with the mailed fist. The only certainty is the continuity of this approach online,” says Choo Zheng Xi, Co-founder of The Online Citizen, a popular self-styled “social news site” which receives visits from some 150,000 to 200,000 unique IP addresses monthly, most of them from within Singapore. The new regulations, many online users believe, is just a preview of things to come.
Mr Yaacob told The Business Times that at present the new regulations need apply only to Singapore-based news websites. But there are plans afoot to to bring foreign websites under the licensing framework next year.
“If [foreign media] are transmitting news to Singaporeans and Singapore is their target market, then we will have to do something about it,” said Mr Yaacob (Emphasis mine, source is article linked above)
I find this all very troubling. When a state controls all communication, the citizens suffer. States that have ranked lower than Singapore on the Press Freedom Index include such countries as Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and North Korea. These are not countries that Singapore aspires to be like in most other salient ways.
I would urge you to read other wiser people’s thoughts on this matter
- MDA’s licensing scheme: So many questions, no real answers
- Comparing the MDA licensing scheme to the UK debate on press freedom
- #freemyinternet why the big hoo-ha
The Online Citizen’s response to the MDA licensing scheme
If you are a citizen or PR, you may want to join the protest on June 8th in Hong Lim Park. More details here