NSP: New Internet Media Regulation a Step Backwards

Press release from National Solidarity Party (NSP)

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) is deeply concerned by the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) announcement on the 28th of May, of a new regulatory regime for internet media companies that regularly report on Singapore news.

It is puzzling that at a time when it should be promoting more open and frank discussion about national issues, the Government has instead seen fit to increase regulation on a media landscape that is already tightly controlled.

Furthermore, this is a curious move because according to the MDA itself, online media companies are already subject to regulatory requirements and it expects no change in content standards as a result of the new regulation.

The MDA should clarify why, if existing regulation has been able to ensure acceptable content standards, new regulation is required.

Three aspects of the new regulatory regime are especially troubling:

1. Takedown rule

While giving itself the authority to demand the takedown of articles containing “prohibited content” within 24 hours, the MDA has not clearly spelt out what constitutes such prohibited content. In its press statement the MDA cited content that is prejudicial to racial harmony. This is an obvious and non-controversial instance of the takedown rule being applied. One wonders if this rule will also be extended to articles critical of government policy, articles tagged with reader comments that are critical of the government and articles that generally express opinions contrary to prevailing political wisdom.

We therefore call on the MDA to clearly articulate the instances in which it may invoke this authority, as well as make transparent which person or group of persons within its organization is empowered to exercise discretion in the application of this authority.

2. Performance bond

We are concerned that the $50,000 performance bond is calculated to have a disciplining effect on media organizations that may then exercise self-censorship in the first instance, rather than risk incurring financial penalty.

$50,000 is also a potentially high barrier to entry for burgeoning independent news outlets to operate and flourish. The effect of this barrier will ultimately be a diminution of our civil discourse and narrowing the language of our thought.

3. Qualifying Requirements

Finally, the minimum qualifying requirements of one published article a week over a two-month period and a traffic base of at least 50,000 unique users may discourage international news organizations from reporting Singapore news regularly for fear of becoming subject to the new regulations themselves.Whither our National Conversation?

Taken together, the NSP believes that the spirit and the conditions of the new regulation will have a regressive effect on the development of the local media industry and the quality of journalism at large in our country.

While the Government has made much of its intention to be more open and engaged with the citizenry, by this latest move, we cannot help but be left with the feeling that it has merely been paying lip service to the notion of a National Conversation.

 

Hazel Poa Secretary-General

On behalf of the Central Executive Committee