05 June 2013

Do Singaporeans Believe What The Government Says?

Recent events appear to indicate that many Singaporeans do not believe what the Government tells them.

Media Development Authority announced on 28 May 2013 that any online news site that reports regularly on issues relating to Singapore and has significant reach among readers in Singapore would require an individual licence from 1 June.

Broadcasting (Class Licence)(Amendment) Notification 2013 was gazetted the following day.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim and MDA took pains to assure netizens and the general public that:

○ The new licence will provide greater clarity on prevailing requirements within the class licence and Internet Code of Practice, and explains what MDA would consider prohibited content in the existing Internet Code of Practice, e.g. content that undermines racial or religious harmony.  As the sites are already subject to these requirements, no change in content standards is expected to result.

○ The framework is not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites.

○ MDA has been restrained in giving directions to remove content that was found to be in breach of content standards.  Only one direction has been issued since 1996 in relation to religiously offensive content.  23 directions were issued for pornographic content or online solicitations for sex and sex chats.  No websites had been told to take down content critical of the Government or a minister.

○ Only ten local news websites fall under the new licensing regime now.  All except one — Yahoo! Singapore News — belong to major broadcasters or publishers in Singapore, which are already licensed.

○ News reports and comments that are critical of Government policies will not be targeted under the new licensing regime for news sites, as long as they are factual and not misleading.

○ Personal blogs — those which do not consistently provide news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest — will not be affected, so long as they do not morph into news sites.

○ Socio-political sites such as The Online Citizen do not fall under the new licensing regime now.

In their eagerness to allay the concerns of netizens, Dr Yaacob and MDA may have undermined the logic of the new licensing regime.

If, in the past 17 years, MDA had not instructed any websites to take down content critical of the Government or a minister and had given instructions to remove religiously offensive content only once, the licensing regime has been working remarkably well.

The Government wants to remind netizens that the Internet is not exempt from the rules of society, but the Internet has been abiding by the rules of society, save for one exception in 17 years (excluding for instances of pornographic content or online solicitations for sex and sex chats, which netizens don't really care about)!

Dr Yaacob did not seem to appreciate the silliness and emptiness of his statement that personal blogs would not be affected if they did not consistently contain any matter of public interest or did not morph into news sites.  Any personal blog that does not consistently contain any matter of public interest is irrelevant to society at large.  The licensing of any personal blog that morphs into a news site begs the question as to when a personal blog becomes, in the eyes of MDA, a news site.

Despite these pronouncements (or perhaps, because of the flawed logic), many netizens suspect that the new licensing regime is just the first step to muzzle online anti-Government comment. If the licensing regime can be changed now, it can be changed again in the future.

Neither Dr Yaacob nor MDA could satisfactorily explain why licensees have to put up a performance bond of $50,000.

In MediaCorp's Talking Point — The Vote programme shown on 4 June, viewers voted by an almost 3-to-1 margin that the new licensing rule would limit online news content.

Netizens simply don't believe, or don't trust, the assurances given by Dr Yaacob, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin (who participated in Talking Point — The Vote in place of MDA CEO Koh Lin-Net) or MDA.

Readers may recall the Government's Population White Paper — A Sustainable Population For A Dynamic Singapore.

Despite the Government's repeatedly saying about 6.9 million people was nothing more than a planning target, many people believe that the Government was (and is) aiming for a population of 7.0 million people by 2030.

The Government should seriously consider how it may regain the trust that it has lost.

This article was last updated on 5 June 2013 at 12:05 p.m.

1 comment:

  1. It would seem that the govt needs to heed the call it likes to make to opposition parties: Come clean about your real motives!