The #FreeMyInternet Movement has launched an awareness campaign to raise awareness among Singaporeans on the potential adverse effects that the licensing ruling has on our usage of the Internet.
Parliament will sit on Monday, 8 July 2013, to discuss the licensing ruling. The awareness campaigns hopes to let you know what will be at stake for you and why you should be concerned.
Take a look at the publicity posters that have been unveiled so far below.
From 1 June 2013, Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) imposed a new ruling on “online news sites”. These sites will have to pay a $50,000 performance bond and take down their articles within 24 hours when the MDA wants them to.
eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! have raised their concerns and have asked the government to review the ruling and engage all stakeholders in discussion on theruling.
Read more here.
#FreeMyInternet has also sent a policy brief on the licensing ruling to all Members of Parliament to consider speaking up in parliament to withdraw the licensing ruling and open a consultation with all stakeholders on the ruling.
Read more here.
You can also do your part by sending the policy brief to your own Member of Parliament, so that he or she knows that ordinary Singaporeans are concerned about the impact of the licensing ruling on Singaporeans.
When websites cannot pay the $50,000 performance bond or have to take down their articles within 24 hours, and they all have to report in the same way, will you be able to only “read the right thing”?
See the other campaign posters here.
These posters are designed by yours truly. 🙂
The #FreeMyInternet movement is inviting Singaporeans to submit their photos to show their support for the freedom to use our Internet.
Parliament will be sitting on Monday, 8 July 2013, to discuss the licensing ruling, so hopefully more Singaporeans will come onboard to let the government know that we are concerned as to how the ruling can impact on our freedom to use the Internet.
Join the campaign with other Singaporeans to let the MDA know that we want to protect our freedom to use the Internet.
Here’s what you can do:
- Write what you want to say anywhere – a piece of paper, cardboard, your hand or shirt.
- Write #FreeMyInternet somewhere.
- Take a photo of yourself, with the words.
- Upload your photo on the #FreeMyInternet Facebook page and tag your friends on it! Or you can also email it to us! https://www.facebook.com/FreeMyInternet
- Change this to your Facebook profile picture!
The #FreeMyInternet is a movement by everyone. The more photos we have, the stronger the voice we have.
Check out all the photos here!
The Heart Truths is also taking part in this campaign and has submitted photos to #FreeMyInternet.
Perhaps the most succinct and beautiful message can be found here:
So send your photo to the #FreeMyInternet Facebook page now to protect your freedom to use the Internet now!
The government had announced a new “licensing framework” to license “online news sites” and subject them to rules such as a $50,000 performance bond and a take down of articles within 24 hours, at the discretion of the Media Development Authority (MDA).
A group of online websites and bloggers protested against the move with a blackout of more than 170 websites, which culminated with a protest last Saturday.
The Heart Truths has also spoken out against Internet censorship in Singapore. It is not in the interest of Singaporeans to have our access to information curbed. This will prevent us from knowing what is going on in our country and to play an active role in our country.
You can watch the video of my protest speech here:
Credit: Cheong Edward
Credit: Matters of Our Heart
You can also read the transcript of the speech here.
To sign the online petition to protect the freedom of the Internet, as well as our right to read, to know and to be informed, you can sign the online petition here.
The MDA had responded to the second email that I had sent. Please see below the email and my subsequent response below as well.
Please see below the MDA’s second email:
Dear Mr Ngerng,
Thank you for your feedback.
We would like to reiterate and elaborate on our earlier point that the content standards for these news sites remainsthe same even under the new licensing framework. The existing Class Licence requires Internet Content Providers to ensure that content on their sites do not go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency. These are broad terms that are open to interpretation in terms of the range of possible violations. While they may be appropriate for the Class Licence because of the diverse range of content on the Internet, we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.
For example, the licence provides more clarity on what it means for news sites to offer information in a way that threatens “public order” with specific examples:
- If the content undermines public confidence in the law and its enforcement in Singapore.
- If the sites present information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public.
- If the content contains extremist or anarchic messages, such as advocating or promoting the use of violence.
As for content that threatens “national harmony”, the guidelines are closely tied with race and religion, given the importance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore:
- Content that incites or is likely to incite intolerance or misunderstanding among the main racial and religious groups in Singapore.
- Content that denigrates or is likely to offend the sensitivities of any racial or religious group.
- Content that promotes or justifies hatred and enmity against other racial and religious groups.
Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, as long as the assessments are well-intentioned, and not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention to mislead the public.
We would like to stress therefore that there is no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites, as the content on these news sites continue to be guided by the same content standards as when they were class-licensed.
Given that there is no change in the standards, our judicious record of issuing take-down notices continues to be relevant. Since the class license scheme came into effect in 1996, there has only been one take-down notice for religiously-offensive content (i.e. the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video), and the other 23 instances were mainly for pornographic content and advertisements soliciting for sex or sex chats which arose from public complaints.
Bearing in mind the speed at which Internet content can be published and disseminated, we are of the opinion that online news sites with a significant reach (and hence impact on Singaporeans) do not carry prohibited content and if they do, to take down such content as soon as possible. In this regard, our assessment is that a site which has a reach of over 50,000 monthly unique IP addresses on average for two months is considered to have significant reach, and therefore should be individually licensed to place a stronger onus on the individual licensee operating that website to report responsibly. We would also like to add that we use a combination of traffic monitoring tools and perception-based surveys; nonetheless, in respect of the commercial sensitivity of websites which may not wish to reveal their statistics, we hope you will understand that we are unable to provide such info to the public.
We would like to share that the move to individually license news sites is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement of the Class Licensing scheme which was also introduced via subsidiary legislation in 1996. Where there is a new policy direction, such as the upcoming amendment in the Broadcasting Act, the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.
Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.
Kindly click here if you wish to participate in our customer service survey.
Media Development Authority
Please see below my response:
I appreciate that you take to respond to my email. I understand as well the difficulties and predicament that you are in, seeing that you might not be privy to all the decisions made about this licensing framework. And so, I am grateful that you continue to make the effort to justify this “licensing framework”.
Thank you for your email and reiteration. If I may, it still doesn’t answer the questions that have been raised.
Please see below the specific questions. I hope that Singaporeans would be able to receive a clear response directed at each of these questions.
- The MDA has decided to license “online news sites”. Which are these “online news sites” and what are their current unique visitors. Please release (1) the full list of all sites considered to be “online news sites”, (2) the respective unique visitors of all these sites, regardless of their current unique visitors, (3) sites which are currently not considered as “online news sites” but have the potential to be inducted into these sites, and their (4) respective unique visitors. Please release the full list of the “online news sites” and potential sites and their unique visitors.
- You had mentioned in the email that, “the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.” Please release the report which the “licensing framework” was developed upon. Please release (1) the full names of the members involved in drafting this report, (2) the surveys and research conducted which had led to the “framework, (3) the overall conclusion and why the “licensing framework” was thus developed. Please release the report in its entirety.
- You had mentioned that, “we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.” However, you have also acknowledged and admitted that, “the move to individually license news sites is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement”. According to my understanding, the refinement is specific to the imposition of a $50,000 performance bond and a take-down order which is in the sole decision of the MDA, for “online news sites” which “reach of over 50,000 monthly unique IP addresses” and publish one “news article” in two weeks. I fail to understand how the imposition of these numerical and financial requirements allow there to be more “clarity”. This does not aid readers to be able to make “informed decisions”. Rather, it penalises “online news websites” without the intended effect, whatsoever. Given this, the only logical conclusion that I can make is that the “licensing framework” is indeed an “attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites”, even as the MDA claims that this would not be.
- Until now, Singaporeans still do not have clarity in content which might be deemed to “go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency” and “information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public”. If the MDA would want to provide “clarity”, the MDA should first clarify on these criteria, which continues to perplex Singaporeans. The MDA has to open a consultation with Singaporeans and online users to further define this criterion to provide more “clarity” if this is indeed the aim of the MDA.
I understand the situation that the MDA is in and I am sympathetic. However, as the government body placed in the position to announce the “licensing framework”, the MDA has to respond adequately to public queries, unless the MDA would like to invite an external party to field queries, as you had on the Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point. It continues to perplex Singaporeans why an unrelated minister, the Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had replaced the MDA CEO to field questions on the talkshow instead.
I look forward to receiving a response from MDA with a point-by-point response. I do not wish to see a response that provides an overall and generic statement aimed at diverting my understanding.
Dear Singaporeans, I would leave it to you to discern for yourself the implications of the “licensing framework” and the impact that it can have on our future ability to continue to speak up for ourselves, and to be able to read and be informed adequately.
I believe that the “licensing framework” is harmful and is tantamount the severely constriction of Singaporeans’ ability to seek information, as we currently are able to now.
The #FreeMyInternet group of online websites and bloggers will be protesting against the “licensing framework” to demand a retraction of this ruling. I will be attending and speaking at the protest.
The protest will be held at the Hong Lim Park from 4.00pm to 7.00pm today.
If you would like to attend the protest, you can join the Facebook event page and find out more information here:
You can also sign the online petition here:
For the sake of our independence, we have to take a stand and speak up for our rights. We have to protect our rights and freedom.
This site will blackout from midnight tonight for 24 hours.
As part of a group of online websites and bloggers, #FreeMyInternet will be protesting against the Media Development’s Authority (MDA)’s move to impose “a “licensing framework” that would require “online news sites” 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”.”
“We believe that the introduction of the licensing regime has not gone through the proper and necessary consultation and had been introduced without clear guidance. In a typical public consultation exercise, a government agency will publish a draft regulation with detailed explanation and issue a press release to invite members of the public to send in feedback for consideration. We observe this is not the case for the licensing regime.
We call on the Ministry of Communications and Information to withdraw the licensing regime. We call upon our elected representatives to oppose the licensing regime.
It is in the interest of Singaporeans and the long-term future for Singapore that the licensing regime be withdrawn.”
Please see our media statement here: http://thehearttruths.com/2013/05/30/major-online-websites-in-singapore-to-protest-against-licensing-requirement/
A protest will also be held on Saturday, 8 June 2013 at the Hong Lim Park, from 4.00pm to 7.00pm. If you believe in protecting your right to read and know, and be informed, I would urge you to attend the protest to send a strong signal to the government that the interests of Singaporeans should be respected.
It is in the interest of all of us to protect our independence and guard against all incursions onto our rights and civilities.
You can join the Facebook event page at this link:
You can also sign the online petition to advocate to the government to withdraw the licensing regime, and to protect our freedom to read, know and think:
Yesterday, a voting poll on the Channel NewsAsia website ended. It was very interesting to observe how the votes had trended. If anyone remembers the Malaysian elections on 5 May 2013, welcome to Singapore’s very own version of the blackout!
But thankfully, unlike the elections, the results were displayed live and Singaporeans who hadn’t voted decided to come out in force to speak their minds.
The Talking Point Vote, as the poll is called, was hosted on the Channel NewsAsia website, and was conducted as part of the Talking Point talkshow. The question asked was, “Licensing News Sites: Will It Work? From 1 June, news websites will need a license to operate. The Media Development Authority (MDA) says it’s not a clampdown on cyberspace, but not everyone’s convinced. Will the rules be expanded in future? Will licensing news sites limit the content you will get online? Join the discussion on Talking Point: The Vote.”
The Vote was released on Saturday, 1 June 2013. When I had first taken the vote, 86.8% of the respondents had agreed that the licensing act would limit online news content (Figure 1).
On the second day, the respondents who agreed increased to 87.8% and even above 89% at one point (which I had not screenshot) (Figure 2)
On the third day, the proportion of respondents who agreed to the statement dropped by 4 percentage points to 83.4% of the respondents (Figure 3).
Yesterday – on the fourth day – just before the Talking Point show was about to start, the proportion of respondents who agreed fell dramatically to 51.2% (Figure 4).
This was a whooping 32% drop in the proportion of respondents who believed that the new licensing rule would limit online news content!
If you were to follow the voting trend from the start of the poll, from the first to second day of the poll, the proportion of respondents had remained at a similar proportion, and had even increased!
From the second to third day, there was only a 4% drop in the proportion of agreement to the statement.
Yet, from the third to fourth day, there was however a dramatic drop of 32%! I would like to hear a statistician share their opinions, and be aghast at the results.
Well, obviously many Singaporeans were flabbergasted! Within less than half an hour, the proportion of votes shot up from 51.2% to 64.5% – a 13% increase (Figure 5).
It then shot up further to 69% (Figure 6).
12 minutes before the vote was going to close, it reached a peak of 74% of the respondents who agreed that the licensing rule would limit online news content (Figure 7).
By the time the vote closed, 72.7% of the respondents had agreed to the statement (Figure 8) – a clear majority.
From a dramatic 32% fall in the proportion in one day to an equally incredible 20% increase within a short one hour – what was happening?
Well, Singaporeans, welcome to the Singapore’s very own blackout! Except that this time, Singaporeans fought back, and fought back hard!
Now, do you know why the government doesn’t want any polls to be conducted during the elections? This is exactly what would happen if Singaporeans are sufficiently informed – we would stand up for our rights and fight back.
Now, do you know why the government wants to impose the licensing rule on “online news sites”? If Singaporeans are informed of what was happening in Singapore and with other Singaporeans online, this is exactly what they would do – vote against the PAP.
But this poll isn’t the only survey to have shown what Singaporeans really believed in.
There are more than enough studies done on Singaporeans’ Internet usage which would give you an adequate understanding of how Singaporeans’ are actually not agreeable to this new “licensing rule”.
In a study, Project CRC Survey 2010 and commissioned, ironically, by the MDA, respondents were asked if they had thought that the current censorship controls were too strict. 43% or the majority of the respondents had agreed that the controls were “just right” – see last bar on right in Figure 9.
After omitting respondents who had indicated, “Don’t Know”, a clear majority of 64% of respondents had agreed that the controls were “just right” – see last bar on right in Figure 10.
In another survey conducted by the Blackbox research in 2012, it was surmised that “most Singaporeans do not support censorship” (Figure 11)
In fact, the majority of 48% of the respondents agreed that “news sources”, such as the Temasek Review Emeritus and The Online Citizen, which “are sometimes critical of the government”, should be “allowed to say what they like”.
Only 1% of the respondents had thought that these websites should be banned.
Which is why it is perplexing and clearly without basis why the government had decided to unreasonably introduce and make this ruling into this law, and not just that but within a few days of its introduction, to license “online news sites” and to require them to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and to take down their articles within 24 hours as the MDA deems fit.
Why did the MDA decide to impose this ruling if most Singaporeans had believed that the current censorship controls were “just right” and the majority “do not support censorship”?
Why did the MDA decide to ask sites to take down their articles when the majority of Singaporeans believe that sites should be “allowed to say what they like” and that only 1% had wanted these sites banned.
Why did the MDA impose a ruling which does not abide by the will of the majority and create a ruling that was adjusted for only the 1% of Singaporeans who would want to ban these sites?
Who is this 1%?
But why does the government want to impose this new ruling?
The answer can be found in a paper by the Nanyang Technological University which details the findings from the Singapore Internet Project 2007. It was found that the majority, or 44.2% of respondents had agreed that “by using the Internet,” they were better able to “understand politics” (Table 1).
Also, the majority or 38.5% believed that with the Internet, “public officials will care more” about what they would think.
This is why the government had created this new ruling, isn’t it? Over the past few months, the government had felt compelled to “care about” what Singaporeans are thinking because Singaporeans are now better able to “understand politics”, and truth be told, the government finds this a bugbear.
More importantly, the survey had also found that, 71.8% of the respondents had thought that the Internet was an important source of information (Table 2). This is as compared to a lower 67.7% of respondents who had thought that the newspapers were an important source.
The Internet was taking over the newspapers!
Clearly, the government had to take the Internet out before, they believed, the Internet would take them out.
Yesterday’s poll on Talking Point The Vote is a micro-representation of what exactly would befall the government if they did not regulate the Internet and control the flow of information that they believe is not to their advantage.
Last Friday, it was reported that the MDA had said that, “An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting”.
However, in yesterday’s Talking Point, Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin – (we still have no clue why he was on the show at all!) – had said that, “The regulations deal with news sites. It doesn’t encompass blogs but would some blogs become news sites, and if they evolve to become news sites, I think that is something that we need to look at. As a broad principle, it is meant to cover those reporting news. Individual blogs, commentaries — that remains open.”
Which effectively means – hi guys, you know what, we were pulling a fast one. After all that public relations, we are still going to clamp down on you.
And so, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim had said that, “I think the best way is for people to see, after the licenses are issued, whether the activists are indeed limited in their public discourse.”
Well, I wouldn’t bet on this – at all. As long as the ruling is loosely framed, the government could always come back and tell us – “that remains open”.
If you want to try your luck and let the government impose this ruling and believe that they wouldn’t use it against us, when in fact, everything “remains open”, you can try your luck. But I wouldn’t.
Yaacob had also said that, “Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, as long as the assessments are well intentioned, and not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention to mislead the public.”
But – nowhere do the guidelines state specifically what “online news sites” are, which they are specifically, and what their exact numbers of unique visitors are. And nowhere do the guidelines state explicitly that “highlighting the shortcomings of government policies” would be protected. Do you remember the defamation law suits against opposition politicians and politicians who were made bankrupt? And the government says that we can be allowed to highlight the shortcomings of government policies? Really?
Remember the boy who cried wolf?
I am not going to take my chances. I know many Singaporeans who are not willing to take the chance as well. If you remember the history of how the Singapore’s media had been systematically silenced in the past, you would know that this licensing rule is only the start of a systematic silencing that would come.
This Saturday, a group of online websites and bloggers, including this blog, The Heart Truths, and collectively known as #FreeMyInternet, would be organising a protest to demand the retraction of the licensing rule by the government.
The protest would be held at the following:
Date: 8 June 2013, Saturday
Time: 4.00pm to 7.00pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park
To protect our right to read as wide a variety of news as we can, so that we can make informed decisions about our lives, and so that we are able to be discerning in our own right, it is in the interest of Singaporeans to come down to Hong Lim Park on this Saturday to join the protest. Our right to know and think, and more importantly, our independence, must be guarded and protected at all times.
You can join the Facebook event page at:
You can also sign the petition here:
As of today, almost 2,500 people have already signed the petition.
I had also invited Mr Tan Chuan-Jin to attend the protest and to sign the petition. However, he shared that he has a meeting and wouldn’t be able to attend.
I did share with him that we would update him on how the event would turn out. So, come along, ask your family and friends, and let’s go to Hong Lim Park to take a stand to protect our independence and what is ours.
Let me give him a report that Singaporeans can be proud of.
I had written an email to the MDA regarding their announcement and subsequent implementation of the new “licensing framework” .You can read the email here.
The MDA had finally replied after almost one week. Please see below the MDA’s response, and my respond after.
Dear Mr Ngerng,
We would like to clarify that the new licensing framework is not intended as a clampdown on Internet freedom or speech. There is also no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites. Rather, as online news platforms increase in reach, it simply aims to ensure greater regulatory consistency between traditional and online news platforms. MDA has typically used reach as a criterion for various licences; in this case, we have determined that a news site which offers at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months and is visited from at least 50,000 monthly unique local IP addresses within that same period commands sufficient reach to fall within our framework and be individually licensed.
We would also like to stress that there is no change to the content standards under the new licensing framework as the previous class licence. The content guidelines within the licence only serve to provide greater clarity on what would already be considered “prohibited content” under the existing Internet Code of Practice. MDA’s content guidelines are focused on the core content concerns that would threaten the social fabric and national interests of our country. Examples include content that incites hatred between racial and religious groups; presents information in a manner that is likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public; or contains extremist or anarchic messages, such as advocating or promoting the use of violence.
At this point, MDA has assessed that only ten sites require an individual licence. The list of these sites were made public last week. Until such point that we notify other sites, they will remain class-licensed and need not apply for an individual licence.
We hope this clarifies your queries. Thank you.
Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.
Kindly click here if you wish to participate in our customer service survey.
Media Development Authority
I had written back to the MDA to seek further clarifications. Please see my response below.
Thank you for your reply.
I do have further enquiries, in my personal capacity, and hope that the Media Develop Authority (MDA) would be able to respond as well.
- You had mentioned in your email that “There is also no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites.” However, if I may ask, what would the intended consequences on these sites by the MDA be on the imposition of a $50,000 performance bond and the allowance that the MDA would be able to ask sites to take down their articles within 24 hours, which I understand would be a unilateral decision by the MDA.
- I am also concerned as to whether the right to such a decision should be concentrated among a select group of people within the MDA (or above). At this point, I do not believe that Singaporeans would be suitably assured that the MDA would be able to make an adequate or representative decision, that’s informed by the will of Singaporeans. My rationale stems from also having read about the displeasure among Singaporeans that has been aroused by the MDA’s announcement and implementation of this new “licensing framework”. More importantly, I believe that the MDA would need to recognise that it wasn’t voted into its job by Singaporeans.
- You had mentioned that, “MDA has typically used reach as a criterion for various licences”. May I understand your definition and explanation of “typical” and how the criterion of (1) “50,000 monthly unique local IP addresses” and (2) “at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months” can be considered as “typical”. If I may understand, how had these criterion been “typically”-developed and what were the basis for these criterion? This was a question that I had asked in my initial email, which had not been addressed.
- You had also mentioned that, “there is no change to the content standards under the new licensing framework as the previous class licence”, which I understand then that the additional requirements under the new “licensing framework” would be the introduction of (1) the $50,000 performance bond and (2) the allowance for MDA to unilaterally take down articles within 24 hours, which would go back to the first question – How would this new penalties affect “Internet freedom or speech” and even as the MDA might say that this “new licensing framework is not intended as a clampdown”, the very imposition of these penalties would necessarily result in “the editorial slant of these news sites” being influenced, unless the MDA believes that these penalties would have other effects?
- You had mentioned that, “At this point, MDA has assessed that only ten sites require an individual licence.” However, sites such as The Online Citizen had said that, “Based on publicly available data of visitorship statistics for TOC … it would appear that the licensing regime could apply to TOC.” I would like the MDA to release (1) the complete list of sites that the MDA have categorised as “online news sites” and (2) their respective number of “monthly unique local IP addresses”. This is a right to information that I, as a Singaporean, has the right to know.
- In addition, the government had said that blogs do not come under this “licensing framework”. For clarity, I would like the MDA to (1) amend the wording of the new “licensing framework” in full and public consultation with Singaporeans and the netizens of the group, #FreeMyInternet, they being one of the largest stakeholders in the online community in Singapore, and (2) to release the complete list of “online news sites” and their respective monthly unique local IP addresses.
- Finally, I had enquired in my previous email about how the “licensing framework” came about, whether the broad spectrum of Singaporeans were generally consulted, and if so, who, and also, on the report recommendation. I would like the MDA to furnish this report and the representatives who had been consulted on and had drafted this report.
If the MDA is not able to fully address the concerns outlined above and cannot suitably respond to the queries, I would demand that the “licensing framework” be retracted with immediate effect.
This email is written in my personal capacity as a Singaporean citizen, under my constitutional rights.
I look forward to your response.
MEDIA STATEMENT – 1 JUNE 2013
The blogging community – collectively called Free My Internet, will be organising a protest and online blackout next week against the new licensing requirements imposed by the Media Development Authority, which requires “online news sites” 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”.
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.
We urge Singaporeans to turn up to send a clear message to our elected representatives to trust the Singaporeans who elected them.
Singaporeans can support us in three ways:
1) Join us at the protest.
Date: 8 June 2013
Time: 4.00pm – 7.00pm
Venue: Speakers Corner, Hong Lim Park
2) If you are a blogger, join us in an online blackout by closing your blog for 24 hours, from Thursday 6 June, 0001 hrs to 6 June, 2359 hrs. You can choose to create your own blackout notice, or use www.freemyinternet.com we have created for your convenience. When you reopen your blog, write your account of the protest, about the new regulations and censorship, or anything related to media freedom in Singapore. Share your thoughts. Share your hope that the light that free speech provides will not go out on us.
3) Sign our petition and read our FAQ at this link to call for the Ministry of Communications and Information to completely withdraw the licensing regime.
We invite media to cover the protest at Hong Lim Park. To indicate media attendance and other media queries, please contact Howard Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signed off as: Free My Internet
In part 1 and part 2 of this article, I had explained to you why the Media Development Authority (MDA) had introduced the licensing requirement for “online news sites”. The rationale is simple – the existing laws that they had created were crafted for use only against institutionalised elements such as politicians from the opposition parties and union members in the past. But these laws were outmoded and cannot be suitably used against ordinary Singaporeans, where if the government dares unleash the law onto the “common” Singaporean that this will backfire on them and be their undoing.
Thus the government had needed a non-law which they could use to push Singaporeans into submission and so that if Singaporeans were to step out of their imaginary line, the government could use $50,000 to push us right back in.
Now, deceptively, the government had released an initial list of 10 “online news sites” which are covered under the new rules. All of these sites are owned by state-owned media, except for Yahoo! Singapore. This has thus made some suspect that the new ruling is aimed at keeping Yahoo! in check.
Well, it is. But you see, there are also other reasons – first, the government cannot possibly put all the sites that it wanted into this list right from the start, at this point in time. If the government has its way, The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus, publichouse.sg, NewsAsiaRepublic and transitioning.org, would have been some of the many sites that would need to register for the licence. Within a year, the government would have required all of them to pay up $50,000 each because of some erroneous reason and the sites would all be forced to close down, because their licence would not be renewed for the second year, if not, in the third year – before the next general elections.
Obviously, the government couldn’t do that because if they did, Singaporeans would tear the government into pieces. We would hold mass protests like we have never done before – Hong Lim Park would be flooded onto the roads and the roads all the way until Central mall would have to be closed.
Thus this calls for the government to release the initial list with a minimal number of number of sites and expand on it as and when the ground is non-threatening (for them) or when Singaporeans are caught unaware.
Oh, Is It Only Yahoo! Singapore?
In the initial list, the consideration for which sites should come under the list is pretty straightforward. You need sites which would come in quietly and won’t cause a ruckus. The state-owned site would be led like sheep, so that’s no problem. Yahoo! Singapore was a no brainer because Yahoo! Singapore is a corporate company. The idea is that it wouldn’t have as passionate a stake in the livelihood and long term future of Singapore and wouldn’t fight against this ruling, especially since it’s interest is in profit-making – this being the government’s logic. Yahoo! was thus unlikely to make “noise”. This would effectively allow the government to introduce this ruling, pretend that everything is all well, that no other sites needs to be placed under this ruling, and quietly walk into the sunset.
Except that the sun will rise much faster than you could see the moon.
The MDA has sidestepped all the questions poised at them about the lack of clarity of the licensing requirement at this point. So, they might say that the new ruling is “not intended to clamp down on Internet freedom” and claim that at this point, that “no other online news sites beyond the 10 listed are found to have met the qualifying criteria of reach and content”. This is of course, spurious, since The Online Citizen had stated that, “Based on publicly available data of visitorship statistics for TOC and the regularity of our posts on Singapore news and current affairs, it would appear that the licensing regime could apply to TOC.”
The MDA had been non-committal in its claims that no other sites currently need to be placed in this list. A media statement by more than 20 Singaporeans with an online presence in Singapore, including this blog, The Heart Truths, was released on Thursday. In response, the MDA would only say that, “The regulation only concerns online news sites that meet the criteria of reach and content.” Furthermore, in The Sun Daily, it was reported that, “The MDA said the licence guidelines will “apply to all content on the news sites, including readers’ comments on the news sites”. The MDA had intentionally left their replies open-ended, not because they didn’t want to “clamp down on Internet freedom”. It’s a no-brainer. Claim innocence and when the time comes, act like the biggest bitch in town.
Let me tell you what this is.
- Stage 1 was to release the ruling with as little fanfare as possible – release only the list of news sites which would fall under this ruling which would comply – so the state-owned media and Yahoo!, for the reasons stated above. It wouldn’t make sense to release only news sites of state-owned media because the question on Singaporeans’ minds would be – huh? Why even bother when they are already in your pockets? Include Yahoo! because first, they are a big fish, second, they won’t bite and most importantly, Singaporeans can be led to believe that the government is only interested in reining in Yahoo! and all else wouldn’t matter.
- Well, wrong. It was reported that, “Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim signalled that the rules may in future apply to overseas news sites reporting on Singapore.” So, there’s a next, but not as long as you would imagine. What is stage 2? When all the commotion from this has died down, and when no one else is talking about this ruling, the government will strike hard and fast and pull in the other sites – The Online Citizen and TR Emeritus – among others into this list. Most likely, what would happen is that the government would wait for the sites to report on something deemed as salacious, so that they could have a reason to rein the sites in. And when that happens, at the point when it seems that the moral integrity of the sites would take a hit, it would be much easier to rein them in. When would stage 2 come? It wouldn’t take long – it would happen anywhere between the next few months but definitely before the year is out. The government doesn’t have enough time to wait. They want to finish off with arresting and suing more people this year and perhaps for the early part of next year, before they start on their “nice” PR from the second half of 2014, as Singapore goes into our 50th anniversary in 2015. Then, they would want to build on the “happy” momentum from 2015 into 2016, and hopefully, they think, to win another general election. So stage 2 would definitely happen this year.
- Moving on to Stage 3 – Stage 3 would take effect by the end of this year or early next year. Stage 3 would be easy. Once you take out the key players – The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus etc, then you move on and you take the smaller players. When there is no more large bases where Singaporeans can rely on, the smaller fishes and blogs like The Heart Truths can be very easily attacked and forced on our knees. The government can issue a licence to any one of us, wait for us to step out of their line, demand for a $50,000 performance bond and wala – clean as neat by mid to end-2014 and ready to clean up the peoples’ minds for the next general elections.
Cooling-Off Day in 2009: Failed Attempt at Regulating the Internet
In 2009, the government had introduced the ‘cooling-off day’, on the day before the polling day of the general elections, which is “a 24-hour period during which campaigning will not be allowed so that voters can reflect calmly on their decision”, so they say. Singaporeans had been worried that this would curb their ability to receive alternative news sources, if the government was to restrict access of news and information. They were worried that all that they could rely on would be the mainstream media and receive distorted news information. Thankfully, by the time of the general elections in 2011, Singaporeans had understood this “cooling-off day” enough to know what they cannot, and actually can do, such that it didn’t have that much of the intended effect to curb people’s enthusiasms.
You see, when the cooling-off day was first designed, the Internet wasn’t as boisterously-used by Singaporeans as it had over the past 2 years. Then, people were still mostly sharing photographs of their food on Facebook and updating their Facebook statuses about how they had just come out of the shower and are getting ready to head out. But sometime from during the general elections in 2011, Singaporeans managed to organise ourselves a lot better and we were able to more systematically receive and produce more news analysis, and of greater depth, for one another.
Cooling-off day was conceived at a time when the government simply couldn’t imagine that the Internet would take over by storm. They thought that a one-day measure could effectively curb dissent. Of course, they were very wrong. They went on to win the lowest ever proportion of votes since Singapore’s independence.
Defamation, Sedition and Contempt of Court: Nothing that Singaporeans Fear Anymore
So, over the past 2 years, they had hunkered in their bunkers trying to think of every way that they could to hold down the hands of Singaporeans. Finally, this year, they embarked on a series of threats – defamation, sedition and contempt of court. What?? None of them worked? None of them worked because Singaporeans just walked all over them?? Wait, weren’t we supposed to do that, the government thought to themselves.
MDA’ Licensing Requirement: One Rule to Rule Them All?
So, they went back to the drawing board and within a few months, they drew this up – tada, the MDA’s “licensing framework”. Great – a framework with hardly any details or clear conditions or guidelines, and replies by the MDA to queries that are misleading and non-committal. This was a rushed job. The government simply doesn’t know what the hell to do with this. All they knew was that they needed to gun the online sites down and they had believed that the licensing “requirement” – that’s a better word to use – is the best way to do it. But they simply hadn’t spent time thinking through what exactly this requirement should be about or what conditions should be tied to it – the licence conditions didn’t matter as much as what they had wanted it to be used for.
You see – the government knew what the end goal was that they had in mind – gun down the online sites. And they knew the tool to use. But they weren’t interested in using this tool for anything else. So, they didn’t bother to think about what else there needs to be thought about for the “requirement” – just come out with it and use it when we get to, them maybe just chuck it aside until some online bugger comes and irritate us again. And this is why they have no answers because this “requirement” wasn’t ever supposed to be logical. And they cannot even logically define it for themselves.
For Power and For Money: Greed and Deceit
Look, this government is very easy to understand once you understand what their main motivations are – power and money. This licensing requirement was conceptualised to protect their power. If you can understand this, you will understand the logic, or lack thereof behind it. The $50,000 is meant to break the piggy banks of Singaporeans, and the hope is for their drive to write to run out as well. Which other “crime” requires you to pay $50,000?
The $50,000 performance bond was created to keep the broadcast agencies in check, so that they would listen to the government. Now that they do anyway, there is no need to threaten them with that. Even if there is a need to, they are millions of dollars rich and they are backed by the government anyway.
You see, the PAP has cornered the estates of governance – the government, the presidency, the courts and the media, and the Singapore companies. Effectively, they have their hands in everything. They have managed to systematically marginalise the opposition parties from participating in governance. And the mainstream media bows down to them all too readily.
Which brings us to this point – the government’s aim had always been to “fix” the opposition. With netizens becoming too “emboldened”, from their point of view, there are now two entities that they have to “fix”. To them, the opposition politicians should rightfully be what they should put their attention on since the opposition politicians are considered part of the formal institutionalised estate. To them, the people and netizens are only a waste of time – which is why they wanted to hurry and put out this licensing requirement to wipe out the netizens, so that they could refocus on “fixing” the opposition – and prevent “messes” like AIM and the fracas with the town councils from being dug out. But they didn’t rely on themselves messing it up big time and digging themselves into deeper shit. Now, they have an even bigger shit to deal with the netizens.
So, now, other than the opposition, the only thing that stands in the government’s way are the people themselves. For a long time, the people couldn’t speak. But now they could. And they knew how to – the Internet ruptured and obstructed the government’s plans.
Let Them Come. And We Will Take Them By the Horns
There is no way anyone can realistically police the Internet. So, let them try, let the government fall into its own bait. We will wait and see. Will the people’s might overcome that of the thumb that presses us down? I wouldn’t wait to see that happen. If I were you, I would stand up for our rights. I would fight, and I would push back.
Singapore is our home, our country. It doesn’t belong to one or two persons who have enough to lavishly make it theirs.
I will be attending the upcoming protest to happen in the next one week to protest against such scrooge that threatens to steal away the last bits of my dignity away.
Let’s come together to join hands. It is not only the future of the Internet that it is at stake. What is at stake is whether you will still be able to receive news and information which the government wouldn’t tell you. And by the time you know it, where would your money have gone?
That’s right, Singaporeans. So, come, join us.