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AIMs seeks feedback on Internet regulation. Report by Gerald Giam.

Advisory council proposes further liberalisations of the Internet

Gerald Giam / Deputy Editor

A government-appointed advisory council this morning released its draft recommendations on changing Singapore's Internet regulatory regime.

Titled "Engaging New Media – Challenging Old Assumptions", the 102-page paper by Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) is now open for public consultation at its website, www.aims.org.sg, with feedback to be used to help formulate its final recommendations to the government.

The AIMS paper covered four broad topics — engaging citizens using the Internet, online political content regulation, protection of minors and liability for Internet service providers — each with its own set of recommendations.

The issue of online political content comes hot on the heels of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, where he had announced a few liberalisations of the political space in Singapore.

Among AIMS' recommendations were a repeal of the law banning "party political films". The paper lamented that the ban on party political films "is too wide-ranging" and warned that this "drift-net approach could potentially stifle creativity" at a time when Singapore is trying to build its reputation as a creative hub. It acknowledged that technology had out-paced the law and made it "unenforceable".

In a departure from the oft-heard government line that politics must be serious, AIMS acknowledged that "political videos, parodies and satires are part of contemporary culture". The paper also pointed out that other non-media specific laws already exist to counter potential threats to our society, making parts of the Films Act redundant.

AIMS nonetheless sought to walk the middle ground by providing alternatives to an outright repeal of section 33 of the Films Act, which prohibits party political films. These included narrowing the scope of the law to ban only films which make "scurrilous and false allegations that undermine respect for the Government", appointing an "independent advisory panel" to decide on political films, or a classification system for political films.

AIMS also pushed for Internet election advertising regulations to permit videos or recordings of election rallies and the use of blogs and social networking tools during the election period. However one of its recommendations to allow party political films, but restrict their release only during a "blackout period" during an election campaign. This is likely to invite the most debate.

Beyond politics, AIMS also recommended ways to protect children from harmful content on the Internet using a combination of education and parent-controlled Internet filtering software.

AIMS chairman Cheong Yip Seng said that feedback from the public to its consultation paper will be seriously considered, and that the Council had not arrived at a final position yet, particularly about online political content regulation. However, he emphasised that the final recommendations will be based on "what is right, not necessarily what is popular".

The consultation period is expected to last six to 8 weeks, with the final report to be submitted to the government by the end of the year.

The full consultation paper is here (pdf file).

The video of the press conference is here.

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