A Singapore regulation requiring websites that regularly publish news on the city state to be licensed has sparked criticism among opposition groups who said the government move is “regressive.”
The rule could impede the free flow of information and the development of media in the country, the Singapore Democratic Party said in a statement. The National Solidarity Party said greater regulation of an industry that is already licensed is “puzzling,” as more discussion is needed on national issues. Neither party has representatives in Parliament.
Singapore’s Media Development Authority this week said certain websites must get a license and pay a S$50,000 ($39,500) bond to be forfeited on the publication of “prohibited content” such as that which “undermines racial or religious harmony.” Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO:US)’s Singapore news website is among an initial list of 10 that will be subject to the rules, which the MDA said would mean news websites are regulated in the same manner as other media.
“Freedom of the press is a right of the people that the government must respect,” the Singapore Democratic Party said in a statement. “The introduction of this policy will simply make Singaporeans more determined to use the new media as a news source, as well as to push for greater media freedom.”
Singapore dropped 14 places in a 2013 press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, ranking 149 out of 179 countries. The MDA said the 10 websites will fall under the new licensing rules from June 1, and that others will be notified when they meet the criteria.
Online news sites must have individual licenses if they report an average of at least one weekly article on the island’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and have at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month over that period, the Media Development Authority said this week.
“The new licensing framework is not intended to clamp down on Internet freedom,” the authority said today in response to queries. “The new framework provides greater clarity on prevailing content standards” for the Internet.
Other sites on the list include those run by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH) and MediaCorp Pte, the country’s two biggest media companies. Singapore Press Chairman Lee Boon Yang was a former information minister, while MediaCorp is owned by Temasek Holdings Pte, the state-owned investment company.
“It’s the ambiguity, the lack of clear specification of what is objectionable that is worrying,” said Terence Lee, an assistant professor of political science at National University of Singapore. “It is very unclear what form or type of content could be seen as violating these standards.”
The authority said operators of news sites are expected to comply within 24 hours to the government agency’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of standards.
“It is not MDA’s policy intent to place onerous obligations on the licensees,” the authority said. “Should any licensee experience difficulties in meeting the licensing requirements, we welcome them to discuss their concerns.”
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