Tuesday, 4 June 2013

"Free My Internet"

Update: 4 Jul 2013: Coalition of internet giants 'very concerned' over new MDA regulations
The five Internet giants that make up the AIC: Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo! and Salesforce. (Images from Wikimedia Commons)

A group of five multi-national Internet giants have expressed their collective concern over the recent Media Development Authority (MDA) individual class licensing regime for news websites.

Called the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC), the group — consisting of eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo! — wrote a letter to Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in mid-June expressing their views on the new licensing framework, which so far affects a news site operated by Yahoo! Singapore.

"The (AIC) strongly believes in the potential of Internet-enabled communications to benefit society, the economy and citizens," the coalition's executive director John Ure wrote. "However, this new regulation — and the regulatory trend that this may be indicative of — could unintentionally hamper Singapore's ability to continue to drive innovation, develop key industries in the technology space and attract investment in this key sector."

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The Big Four rise up against new MDA scheme

Looks like it’s not just the small-time bloggers who are pissed about the new MDA licence scheme. Now, four others have spoken up – and they are anything but small.

Today, Zaobao reported that Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and eBay – have also written to the Minister for Communications and Information to express their reservations over the scheme that says news sites that report on local news and have a reach of 50,000 may be licensed by the Government.

Representing the four Internet giants is the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a industry association based in Hong Kong that looks at Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region. In a letter sent to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim two weeks ago, the group’s acting director John Ure said that the new regulations would “inadvertently suppress Singapore’s ability to innovate and impede technological advancement”, leading ultimately to a drop in foreign investment.

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Indirect consequences of MDA licensing

The government’s proposal to regulate Singapore news websites, “on the same basis as printed press”, has aroused much discussion, but most of it was not directly relevant to the current proposal, which actually applies to only 10 websites operating now, 9 within the Singapore Press Holdings orbit (the remaining one is Yahoo Singapore), as it requires the sites to be locally hosted. The extended scene is however much more interesting.

First there is the very idea of “press regulation”. If you accept that current rules concerning the
printing press are sound, then you would see nothing alarming in applying similar rules to the web; if however you oppose the press regulation regime to start with, you would obviously be against applying it to websites too. With the two sides divided in this way from the start, any discussion is likely to be unproductive.

Second, once the regulatory regime is established, is extension to foreign hosted websites reporting Singapore news likely? If one believes so, then it is useful to speculate on how this might be achieved. Here the precedent of the foreign printed media circulation restriction becomes interesting: since the late 80s, the government had the power to “gazette” individual foreign publications and restrict their circulation numbers. Far Eastern Economic Review (no longer a news weekly), New York Times and International Herald Tribune were among those gazetted at various points.

Bloggers appeal to MPs to take action on MDA regulations
The group of bloggers behind the #FreeMyInternet movement have sent a policy brief to MPs in the hopes of a "robust debate" in Parliament on the newly-introduced licensing regime. (Yahoo! file photo)

A group of Singapore bloggers protesting the new licensing rules for online news sites is urging the country's Members of Parliament (MPs) to push for debate on the issue, if not the withdrawal of the scheme altogether.

Leaders of the group called #FreeMyInternet forwarded a copy of an 11-page policy brief to all 87 elected MPs, the three non-constituency MPs, and the nine nominated MPs on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the implementation of the scheme was arbitrary and non-transparent, among other issues.

"An ideal media regulation regime should address concerns of online censorship and aspirations for a larger media and political space online," the group said in its brief, stressing the need for a "conducive and predictable" legal environment to help local players flourish.

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Opposition MPs to raise issue of new MDA scheme in Parliament

Opposition MPs are planning to raise the issue of the MDA's new licensing scheme when Parliament sits on Monday.

MCMP Gerald Giam spoke to reporters saying that he and some other WP MPs have filed at least 5 questions regarding the new licensing scheme.

He also acknowledged the efforts of the #FreeMyInternet group in preparing a policy briefing paper. He said that the paper is useful to help MPs get a better understanding of the concerns of the online community in general.

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Singapore Bloggers Rebel Against New Law
The Merlion says no blogging
The Merlion says no blogging

Singapore's blogging community is rebelling against a stringent new law that requires online news sites to put up a performance bond of S$50,000 and to submit to government censorship, calling for the general public and bloggers to rally next Saturday against the measure.

Last Tuesday the Singapore Media Development Authority issued the new regulations, which it said were designed to place the websites "on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms which are already individually licensed."

The protest group, calling itself "Free My Internet," is asking Singaporeans to rally in Hong Lim Park, the site of Singapore's speaker's corner, where a May 1 protest drew 3,000 participants protesting the government's plans to let in vast numbers of new immigrants. It was said to be the biggest protest crowd in Singapore in modern times.

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#FreeMyInternet – Internet regulations saga takes bizarre turn

In what is a bizarre turn of events, it now appears that the Acting Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, will hold fort on Tuesday night’s Talking Point programme on Internet regulations.

On Saturday, Talking Point had announced that the CEO of the Media Development Authority (MDA), Koh Lin-Net, would be the guest.

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#FreeMyInternet response to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim’s statements of 4 June 2013

We refer to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim’s statement today as reported in Today online, which attempted to downplay the effect of the new online Licensing Regime.

Dr Yaacob has unfortunately chosen to characterize the genuine concerns raised by ordinary Singaporeans as “farfetched” claims.

Dr Yaacob also fails to make any apology or provide any explanation for why his Ministry chose to bypass Parliament and the public in introducing the sweeping Licensing Regime.

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Fight Internet Censorship, Free Your Mind

It seems that Internet censorship in Singapore (described by the government as a “light-touch” regulatory framework) mostly depends on a combination of access controls (such as requiring political websites to register for a license) and legal pressures (such as defamation lawsuits and the threat of imprisonment). The intention is to prevent people from posting objectionable content (source, p. 81).

Singapore’s prominent bloggers and alternative news websites have concertedly launched a petition to urge the Media Development Authority (MDA) to rescind the licensing requirement for “online news sites”; a protest is also slated to take place this Saturday, 8 June at Hong Lim Park.

Bloggers and activists have explained why we should all care about this new ruling which has taken effect from 1 June 2013, barely a few days after it was announced to the public.

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OPINION: How to deal with MDA’s licensing scheme - Belmont Lay

Regardless of whether you own a blog or website or none, just continue to write, publish, interact and comment on other people's blogs and websites like your life depended on it.

This is the best approach you can take. Especially if you don't feel particularly angered or threatened by the new regulations, but still feel indignant about how such rules are imposed arbitrarily without a proper public or parliamentary debate. It is also the best way to show the authorities your voice will not be culled.

Always remember: words are free. The Internet is a network dependent on your participation. And participation begets more participation. Websites and blogs can be shut. But the spirit of conversation can't. Full story

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Singapore: Regulation or censorship?

Journalists and bloggers criticise country's new media law

Singaporean journalists and bloggers are criticising a new media regulation that they believe will stifle independent news and information about the country.

Set to take effect on June 1, the law will require online news sites to pay a S$50,000 bond (approximately $39,500 USD) and obtain individual licences if they meet certain conditions. The conditions include publishing at least one report about Singapore per week and receiving at least 50,000 unique visitors to their site each month over a period of two months. The new rules will bar these sites from posting content that “undermines racial or religious harmony" and will require them to take down prohibited content within 24 hours of being notified by authorities.

So far, ten websites have been named to fall under the new licence requirements, including Yahoo! Singapore, which hosts a considerable amount of content from independent contributors. Bloggers fear the Media Development Authority will target their websites next.

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Singapore places online media under strict licensing regime

A NEW LICENSING SCHEME for online news in Singapore as triggered a tragic result: it is effectively extending the country’s strict regulation of news and public affairs information to its relatively freer online news media.

Singapore media on Monday, 28 May, reported that a fact sheet posted on the website of the Media Development Authority (MDA), announced that all online news media in the city state will henceforth come under a licensing regime.

In a statement, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) noted that the MDA fact sheet explained that the new scheme gives online news media “a more consistent regulatory framework traditional news platforms” and “provides greater clarity on prevailing requirements” of the Singapore Broadcasting Act’s class license for internet service and content providers, and the Internet Code of Conduct.

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Was GPC for Information, Communication & the Arts consulted before MDA went ahead to license internet media?

Many netizens had asked MP Baey Yam Keng, who is also the Deputy Chairman of GPC for Information, Communication & the Arts, about this during his live facebook chat on Sunday night (2 June 2013), but he didn't give any answer. So the questions on everyone's mind is whether he and GPC Chairman Zaqy Mohamad were consulted by MDA and MICA to license internet media. If not, why?

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“Trust people to be rational and to make their own judgement” – MP Baey Yam Keng

From #FreeMyInternet’s engagement with MP Baey Yam Keng during his live chat on Facebook. Click on the picture for an enlarged view. You can also read the conversation here.

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The protest event is scheduled for the coming Saturday. I will click 'decline' to this invitation

This government is unlike others and our response to them must also not be aping what is popular elsewhere. Don't do this unless the majority of Singapore including PAP supporters are with you - the Pop.White Paper is a good example, but it wasn't the first. That honor should go to the Graduate Mothers Scheme.

We didn't have Hong Lim Park designated for such use then but the message didn't fail to reach the government either. Then we had a PM that was so strong he could get away with many things. Not any more.

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Internet Code of Conduct

– Breakfast Network: The Big Four rise up against new MDA scheme
– TOC: Indirect consequences of MDA licensing
– Yahoo: Coalition of internet giants ‘very concerned’ over new MDA regulations

– Breakfast Network: Calling out the MDA
– Breakfast Network: The world’s eye on… Singapore’s media scene
– The Lycan Times 狼人時報: New licensing requirements imposed by the MDA
– Everything Also Complain: MDA CEO buying $10 million Corals condo
– Blogging for Myself: #FreeMyInternet
– visakan veerasamy. : MDA licensing inspires active citizenry… in protest against it
– My Little Corner: Problem is in the wordings… again
– [FB] The Independent – Singapore: Netizens told to put their money where their mouth is
– Jentrified Citizen: Why support “Free My Internet” Movement Against Internet Censorship?
– Where Bears Roam Free: Horse manure from MAD I mean MDA and Yesmancob Ibrahim
– The Chromosome 17: #FreeMyInternet now, MDA!
– Better Off Ted: MDA’s SledgeHammer approach to the Internet
– The Sun Shines on Singapore: Bloggers are Safe…For Now
– Rationality of Faith: On the Government’s “Censorship” of the Internet
– Gerald Giam: Internet regulation déjà vu
– Jeannette Chong Aruldoss: My thoughts on the new MDA licensing regime
– Sgpolitics.net: Is the PAP government going back to its old ways?
– DKSG: #FreeMyInternet – Movement against new licensing requirements for online media
– TRE: SG’s Public Spheres – Between Keyboard Warriors & V for Vendetta in Hong Lim
– TOC: Why support the “Free My Internet” Movement Against Internet Censorship?
– Publichouse: Reading “the right thing” under wrong circumstance
– If Only Singaporeans Stopped to Think: MDA: Bloggers not affected by new rules
– New Nation: PAP fails to come to Yaacob Ibrahim’s aid

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