Friday, 7 June 2013

Licensing Regime Chills News Climate

Update 27 Nov 2013: "Breakfast Network" required to register under MDA's licensing scheme

In comments issued on Wednesday, MDA said as part of the registration, the owners have to undertake not to receive foreign funding for the provision, management or operation of the website.

It said the site owners were notified on Tuesday.

related: It’s getting very hot in the BN kitchen

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City-state Undercuts Status as Financial Center by Expanding Media Censorship to Web

(New York, June 7, 2013) – The Singaporean government should withdraw an onerous new licensing requirement for online news sites, Human Rights Watch said today. The new rules will further discourage independent commentary and reporting on the Internet in Singapore

On May 28, 2013, the Media Development Authority, which is controlled by the Ministry of Communications and Information and is responsible for regulation of Singapore’s media and publishing industry, announced that all “online news sites” that reach 50,000 unique viewers per month over a two-month period must secure a license to operate. The licensing regime took effect on June 1, and the Media Development Authority released a list of 10 websites that will initially be impacted, including, Business Times Singapore, and Yahoo! News Singapore.

“Singapore’s new licensing requirement casts a chill over the city-state’s robust and free-wheeling online communities, and will clearly limit Singaporeans’ access to independent media,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Websites will be forced into the role of private censors on behalf of the government.”

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Online media licensing undercuts Singapore's financial status: report

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch said on Friday that Singapore is undercutting its status as a financial center by expanding media censorship to the web and urged the city-state's government to withdraw the new licensing requirement for online news sites.

Singapore is a major banking and trading hub and many companies have set up their regional headquarters in the city-state because of its relatively low corporate tax rate, strong infrastructure and ease of travel in Southeast Asia.

Singapore's licensing scheme casts a chill over its "robust and free-wheeling" online communities and will limit Singaporeans' access to independent media, said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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S'pore govt 'blunderbuss' licensing law unnecessary

Panelists debate Singapore's licensing scheme (Source: Channel NewsAsia)

The government has little reason to introduce its new licensing scheme for online news sites when the mainstream media and online community already demonstrate responsible reporting and self-regulating.

During a panel discussion last night broadcast on Channel NewsAsia, Professor Arun Mahizhnan, special research adviser at the National University of Singapore's Institute of Policy Studies, noted the government's mandate for news sites to apply individual licenses lacked clarity and should have been drafted more precisely.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) last week said online sites reporting on local news at least once a week and drawing 50,000 unique visitors per month would have to apply for a license. It defines news as content carrying any "news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, or scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language--whether paid or free".

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Internet censorship around the world

Singapore's government is set to tighten regulations for news websites - a move that has drawn accusations that the authorities are trying to control blogs that post anti-government comments.

But press censorship is nothing new, and in countries around the world governments are still working out how to respond to the publishing freedom the internet allows.

BBC correspondents in China, India and the US give their views on what form internet censorship is taking in these countries.

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Web 'blackout' in Singapore to protest new online rules

Singaporean bloggers blacked out their homepages Thursday to protest new licensing rules for news websites they say will muzzle freedom of expression.

Some 134 participants, including individual bloggers and community-based blogs, replaced their homepages with black screens featuring the words "#FreeMyInternet", as well as the time and venue of a rally to be held Saturday. The 24-hour blackout was to last until midnight.

The protest comes after surprise regulations came into force on June 1 requiring news websites -- including one operated by US-based Yahoo! -- to obtain licences from the city-state's official media regulator.

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Over 150 Singapore websites and blogs hold 24-hour blackout protest 

More than 150 Singapore websites and blogs blacked out their content yesterday in protest against the Government's controversial new rules for licensing online news sites. 

Under rules announced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) last week, sites which put up Singapore news regularly, and with at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month, have to apply for an individual licence and put up a $50,000 bond. 

Even though MDA stressed this week that the rules do not apply to personal blogs, many in the online community still feel they are phrased too broadly.

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More than 160 websites stage 24-hour ‘blackout’ to protest against new MDA licensing regime 

More than 160 websites in Singapore went offline yesterday (6 Jun) to protest against the new licensing requirements imposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Under the new website regulations, websites which regularly cover Singapore news with substantial reach need to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of ‘content standards’.

The 24-hour “internet blackout” is spearheaded by a group of bloggers and sociopolitical websites, known as “Free My Internet”.

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Bloggers showed solidarity in the Thursday blackout protest

On Thursday 06 June, well over a hundred socio-political blogs, as well as blogs of all genres ranging from food to entertainment, blacked out their sites as a mark of solidarity and protest against the new MDA regulations.

MDA seeks to impose a S$50,000 performance bond on popular news sites that report on Singapore current affairs. and subject these sites to a licensing regime that many have come to see as oppressive.

During the blackout, participating websites replaced their home pages with an opaque, blackened screen with the hashtag “#FreeMyInternet“, and informed readers that a rally at Hong Lim Park will be held on Saturday 08 June, from 4pm onwards.

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MDA licensing - did Bertha Henson really know her job when she was at SPH?

I am against the govt's attempt to regulate the internet. But I take it in stride, knowing that all govts are fearful of the internet. I can also understand the hooha by many bloggers who cry foul. That is understandable.

What I don't understand is Bertha Henson, who was once a professional journalist, doesn't seem to know what is happening in the real world of journalism.

Bertha Henson. She doesn't seem to have an inkling how the real world of journalism works, believing that a truly free press without any form of govt intervention exists. Did she really know her job at SPH then?


Yesterday was the first time social media stopped writing about Singapore news. What the people could read was only news from the main media. Does it make any difference if there is no social media around and the people continue to read only news from the main media? Not really, life will go on as normal

 So, what is the point of a social media blackout or the total obliteration of social media? The main media will continue its responsible and professional role of feeding the people with the right thing to read and all the feel good news. The negative side of the news, the other version of the news, the other truth, will not be seen or heard. The people will be safe from reading the wrong news or not right news. No one will miss anything 

Would things be just as fine? It all depends on whether the main media is doing an adequate job in reporting all the right news. It all depends on whether the people are satisfied with reading all the right news. It all depends on whether the people, having been exposed to the other side of the news think the main media is doing enough and giving them a balanced news.

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The futility of websites blackout

The apple that fell and got Newton's notice is still called an apple today. But what is conservative or liberal; right wing or left wing etc., will change several times in one lifetime.

This government is becoming more and more like any other government. They came up with new measures, got everyone confused or hot under the collar and then provided incredulous explanation how they ought to be understood. I wonder how each of them passed English Comprehension in school. And how could an SMU professor be so intellectually sloppy to say this? I quote Dr Michael Netzley, 

He said: "While I also share strong concerns about the excessively broad language of the MDA announcement, I do feel the authorities have made great effort to clarify and we should give them a chance to do what they say they are going to do."

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MDA Licensing Outcry – is it an overreaction?

The ‘blogging community’ is up in arms over MDA’s new licensing framework for online news sites. I use air quotes to describe this community as they are more often than not squabbling with each other over copyright infringements and popularity battles. Perhaps ‘the blogging extended family’ is more appropriate. Every large family has a couple of recalcitrant troublemakers that you try hard to disassociate from, but are unable to avoid come CNY and other major gatherings

With only ten sites listed under this new scheme, nine of which are part of the mainstream media, you might be mistaken into believing that independent bloggers and netters are suddenly throwing their support behind a group collectively, and colourfully, dubbed ‘the 154th media’

For the context of this battle between bloggers and government regulating authorities, you will need to look back about five years for the last major discussion on Internet Freedom

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– Beyond The Emotive: Keep Calm and Carry On Posting
– A Yummy Slice of Life: Between Arbitrary and Benevolence
– The Void Decker: Keep the rallies going, and the quality too
– Benjamin Cheah: I refuse
– Publichouse: Singapore once had a free press
– Blogging for Myself: The futility of websites blackout
– Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: MoM’s g-string is showing
– Where Bears Roam Free: did Bertha Henson really know her job when she was at SPH?
– Jentrified Citizen: Singapore Bloggers’ First Blackout Protest a Success
– Bloggers showed solidarity in the Thursday blackout protest
– My Singapore News: Social Media Blackout – What you no longer read
– If Only Sporeans Stopped to Think: Govt will maintain light touch on Internet, says Yaacob
– WonderPeace: The PAP Way
– Singapolitics: Jury still out on impact of MDA ruling
– Human Rights Watch: Singapore: Licensing Regime Chills News Climate

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