The MDA Licensing Issue – Can’t We All Just Get Along?


By Winston Tay, The Blogfather

It’s caused a disturbance in the force. Online alternative media outlets, a couple of political parties and even a number of bloggers – parent bloggers included – have been sitting up for the last two days watching the commentary between the government and, well, us, over the latest Media Development Authority (MDA) licensing regulations that will take effect in just two days time.

It matters a whole load to The Blogfather, and it should matter to anyone who likes to opine online, or read opinions and commentary online. I’ll tell you why.

To Bloggers

The vast majority of us common folk don’t see ourselves falling into the 2 main criteria that require us to fork out the $50,000 performance bond to the MDA and watch what we say. But in reality, the criteria for “news site” categorisation is so vague I feel like the MDA wants to include every Tom, Dick and Blogger and their pet cat into the party:

A “Singapore news programme” is any programme (whether or not the programme is presenter-based and whether or not the programme is provided by a third party) containing any news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language (whether paid or free and whether at regular interval or otherwise) but does not include any programme produced by or on behalf of the Government.

– Footnote 1, MDA Fact Sheet – Online news sites to be placed on a more consistent licensing framework as traditional news platforms

The Blogfather is pretty much a “programme”, right? I talk about news, right? (In fact, I’m doing it now.) I’m kinda intelligent, right? When something occurs (like me getting into the SG Blog Awards), I report it here, right? I’ve talked about socialeconomicpoliticalculturalartistic (okay stretching it a bit here)sportingscientific (kind of) or any other aspect of Singapore (pretty much free, and at otherwise irregular intervals) in English AND Singlish, and nothing I say here is produced by or on behalf of the Government (though quite a bit of it is produced because of them). Right?

The key word in the MDA’s footnote is the word “or”, and that word appears a good FIVE times in their one sentence. It basically means you don’t need to fulfill all their requirements at once; just one or two will do, thanks.

Then there’s the issue of the 50,000 monthly unique views. If Mr Brown can (and he is the original Blogfather), maybe I can also leh?

Now THAT’S scary.

To Readers

I attended a writing workshop last weekend where veteran journalist PN Balji made an observation that for its standards of fact-reporting, mainstream media is good with covering the breadth of news coverage, but there seemed to be a lack of depth. I then formulated the balance between mainstream media and online media as such: where mainstream media is able to provide readers with the breadth, online media (which makes much less qualms about pushing opinion and commentary to the masses) provides the depth.

I’ve seen the boys and girls at The Online Citizen (TOC) at work. They’re a young, dedicated bunch of volunteer citizen journalists who strongly stand by what their blog represents: a check-and-balance on current affairs that would otherwise only be represented by the reporting of two very large, very established, and very state-owned media organisations. As far as news providers go, they can come off as a little green, but you cannot fault their passion and belief in their cause. And over its few years of existence, it is that passion and belief from them, and their alternative media brethren likePublichouse.sgthe Breakfast NetworkSingapore Daily and (dare I mention) even TR Emeritus and The Real Singapore that has created the current, vibrant, spirited environment of socio-political discourse, what I see as the true National Conversation.

Imagine getting each of them to fork out $50,000 (bearing in mind these guys don’t have a revenue model like SPH, MediaCorp or Yahoo! Singapore to fall back on for operating costs) and having to expect takedown notices for every other sentence they type. For that matter, imagine them getting takedown notices for what you write in the comments of the articles they publish.

End of discussion. Literally.

Now imagine if the enforcement of unlawful assembly were to apply to Facebook Groups, WhatsApp group chats and Google+ Hangout Circles.

To Alternative Media News Sites (and Political Parties Opposed to the Regulation)

Come on, guys. It’s not the end of the world yet; you got till 1st June. But I do want to make one little suggestion: instead of strongly-worded press statements lamenting the suddenness or unfairness or we-don’t-know-what-to-do-ness, and calling for the MDA to explain themselves in public, why don’t you come together, all of you, even invite the Big Two as well, and you call the MDA for a little kopi session about this?

I should explain the kopi session.

Back at the Daddy Matters Group, particularly amongst the First Eleven, we have this conflict-resolution policy (in large part formulated by Andy from Sengkang Babies) which I personally like to call the Kopi Resolution. In Andy’s words, “Anything can be settled over kopi.” We’ve tried it out on a number of occasions, both collectively and individually, over disagreements, clarifications and crying-on-shoulder moments, and I’m telling you, it works. It’s not the kopi that makes everything better. It’s the face-to-face, and the willingness to discuss and resolve issues with an understanding that we all want this to work, and we all want to work together to make this work. If there’s insecurity over an issue and you feel you have the means to allay that insecurity with that other party (and usually, you do), go have a kopi together and hear the fella’s insecurities out.

But you have to stand together with the understanding that you want to resolve the issue (you’ve done it before), not aggravate it with loud, bang-table statements such as “EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” You don’t win an argument by pissing people off, and you definitely don’t win anything by being pissed off yourself.

To the MDA (and Mr Yaacob Ibrahim)

So the Code of Conduct thing didn’t quite pan out the way anyone wanted (personally, I was pretty hopeful when the idea was mooted). Doesn’t mean you guys can’t still be friends. We all now know there’s a problem; whether it’s a miscommunication, or there’s really something on your mind that you need to talk about with the alt media boys, I’m sure the boys are open to hearing you out and coming to some sort of consensus. Just hold off on that 1st June deadline first, and let’s really hear each other out. Really.

So, everybody. Kopi. Onz boh?


This article was first published in The Blogfather, TOC thanks Winston for allowing us to reproduce the post here.