The Singapore government’s regulation introduced last week to license news websites does not impede individuals’ freedom of expression online, a minister said.
The regulation, an extension of the rules governing print media, is aimed at managing content of news sites mostly run by the same parent companies, Tan Chuan-Jin, Singapore’s acting manpower minister, said yesterday in a televised panel discussion on Channel NewsAsia, the city’s biggest broadcaster.
The city-state’s Media Development Authority said certain websites including one run by Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO:US) must get a license and pay a S$50,000 ($40,000) bond to be forfeited if it publishes “prohibited content” that “undermines racial or religious harmony.” The move has drawn the ire of opposition groups who said it could impede the free flow of information and development of media in the country.
“A lot of the public concern revolves around not just regulations, but is my space being constrained and can I continue to say what I want to say,” Tan said. “My message is that you should carry on and we would be poorer for it if we deprive Singaporeans of that space.”
The regulation won’t include the social media or blogs unless they become news sites, he said.
Singapore dropped 14 places in a 2013 press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, ranking 149 out of 179 countries. The MDA said 10 websites will fall under the new licensing rules from June 1, and that others will be notified when they meet the criteria.
Yahoo said it’s already bound to comply with the authority’s Internet rules before the annoucement last week.
“Further regulation is redundant,” Alan Soon, Yahoo’s Singapore country manager and managing editor for Southeast Asia, said on the company’s news site for the city. “And as the past few days have shown, it creates confusion and unsettles both users, as well as the media industry that Singapore has tried so hard to cultivate.”
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, the operator of Channel NewsAsia, is owned by Temasek Holdings Pte, the state-owned investment company.
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 MDA had said.
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