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Bloggers’ group proposes sweeping changes in Internet regulation

MEDIA RELEASE

For immediate release

By Choo Zheng Xi and Alex Au

18 April 2008

Bloggers' group proposes sweeping changes in Internet regulation

A group of committed bloggers will submit recommendations to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts within the next few days, on the subject of Internet regulation. This open letter, which will be released to the public at the same time, will call for sweeping changes to bring Singapore in line with international norms and the reality of the new technology.

Its key proposals include:

1. All regulation of speech should be platform-neutral, given the steady convergence of various platforms as a result of the digital revolution. There should not be different rules for different media.

2. Platform-neutral regulations should be harmonised to be as minimal as the current freest platform, if not even freer.

3. What rules there need to be should be narrowly tailored and should serve clear social purposes.

4. Rules should take the form of unambiguous laws, and in extremis, violators prosecuted, rather than take the form of licensing, bureaucratic discretion and administrative penalties as currently is the case. The various licensing schemes and the Media Development Authority's powers to fine and ban should be dismantled.

5. Shielding a government from criticism is not a legitimate social purpose. Restraining political content is unjustified in principle and unrealistic in practice, and the attempt to do so impairs Singapore's maturity as a nation.

6. The group notes that there are plenty of laws that need to be amended or repealed to give effect to the recommendations, such as the Broadcasting Act, the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Films Act. As this may take time, the group proposes that in the interim, there could be an Internet Freedom Act that sets out clear guarantees for Internet freedom, over-riding the multiple (and sometimes conflicting) restrictions in all these other laws, regulations and codes of practice.

7. The group advocates a much bigger role for community moderation and in fact sees an ongoing trend wherein site owners themselves ensure a responsible use of their digital space. To further this process, the group suggests that an Internet Community Consultative Committee (IC3) be set up comprising one-third independent content providers, one-third persons familiar with rapidly evolving digital technologies, and one-third regular consumers of Internet content (i.e. regular surfers). They should not have any legal powers, but serve as a regular meeting point for citizens concerned with the free and responsible use of digital media.

8. Controversies relating to Internet speech should as far as possible be resolved via community moderation. Only when public safety is at serious risk should the law and prosecution be invoked.

The group of 15 persons was led by Choo Zheng Xi from The Online Citizen and Alex Au of Yawning Bread, and started work in December last year.

Alex Au says, "The government often posits freedom and responsibility as trade-offs. We disagree. It is the exercise of freedom that nurtures a sense of responsibility, so if we want Singapore's digital space to be mature and responsible, we must give it the freedom to grow."

Choo Zheng Xi says, "Internet technology is borderless and every day, people learn new ways of getting around our petty rules. The trend is towards the unenforceability of MDA's rules. In the long run, it will damage the credibility of the law to have all sorts of meaningless rules that are unrealistic and largely seen as illegitimate. It is urgent that we trim the thicket."

Alex Au says, "The technology is such that as things stand, individual bloggers find it easy to ignore the rules; they are not going to be deterred by them. The people who are going to be deterred are those considering making a significant investment whether in film, online or other expression. The arbitrariness of administrative control and the absence of clear avenues of appeal to independent courts of law, provide no legal certainty. The present system is perverse, contradicting our aim of being a vibrant media hub."

For more details,

Choo Zheng Xi, [email protected]

Alex Au Waipang, [email protected]

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