Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Dr Yaacob’s incorrect and embarrassing New Zealand comparison

By Choo Zheng Xi/Co-Founder, TOC

Closeup shot of the newspapers – Andrew Low

This morning, my eyes nearly popped out of my skull when I read in the ST that Minister for Communications and Information (MCI) had compared the MDA Licensing Regime to recommendations made by a New Zealand (NZ) Law Commission Report on new media.

This is an embarrassing example for Dr Yaacob Ibrahim to use, and shows how desperate his Ministry is becoming to grasp at any fig leaf of legitimacy to justify their Licensing Regime.

In fact, Dr Yaacob’s example is so misguided and confused that one has to wonder whether or not he has actually read the report. New Zealanders would certainly be shocked to discover how he has interpreted the findings of the report.

The report referenced by Dr Yaacob to prove his misguided point is the NZ Law Commission’s Report titled “The News Media Meets ‘New Media’: Rights, Responsibilities and Regulation in the Digital Age”.

Dr Yaacob says of this report: “The bottom line is that (the New Zealanders) now see that even the media can operate contrary to the public interest, and they need a regulator to ensure that this does not happen…They have also recognised the need for any regulator to oversee both traditional and online media”.

Dr Yaacob has glossed over critical differences between the findings of the New Zealand law Commission Report and MCI’s Licensing Regime.

When these differences are examined up close, any sensible reader will realise that Dr Yaacob’s New Zealand example actually proves precisely why his Licensing Regime is not the way to go.

Did Dr Yaacob read the NZ Law Commission Report?

In summary, these are the critical differences in the NZ Law Commission Report which Dr Yaacob has ignored.

1)     The New Zealand report recommends a voluntary new media standards body for online news. This body is to be known as the News Media Standards Authority (NMSA). Participation in the NMSA is to be by way of  contract, and not compulsory.

The MDA Licensing Regime is going to be compulsory, with no opt out option, and includes a $50,000 “performance bond”;

2)     The NMSA is, in the words of the NZ Law Commission Report, supposed to be “genuinely independent of Government and the news media industry.

The chairperson is to be a retired judge or an experienced and well known public figure appointed by the Chief Ombudsman (a public official whose sole role is to be an independent check on the government).

A majority of the NMSA will be drawn from members of the public who are independent of the media industry with a minority drawn from former members of the media.

This is clearly different from Dr Yaacob’s Licensing Regime, which is to be regulated by MDA, which is a government agency;

3)     The consultative and open manner in which the New Zealand report was constructed, debated and adopted puts Dr Yaacob’s Ministry to shame.

In the first place, the NZ Law Commission set up to make the recommendations was independent, publicly funded commission staffed by serving Judges, former Judges, and eminent lawyers.

The NZ Law Commission consulted widely and solicited views and opinions from members of industry, the legal fraternity, bloggers, commercial news agencies, and the public at large before formulating their recommendations.

The recommendations were then forwarded to the Government in the form of a Ministerial Briefing Paper.

These recommendations were then tabled and then debated in Parliament.

Compare this to the situation in Singapore, where even Members of Parliament were not asked to scrutinize the Licensing Regime, and Cabinet Ministers are clearly unprepared to defend the indefensible Licensing Regime.

Time for Hong Lim

In the days to come, Dr Yaacob is likely going to have to walk his comments back because of his selective and misguided portrayal of the NZ Law Commission report.

To draw such a comparison is an insult to our friends from New Zealand, and to the intelligence of the ordinary Singaporean.

Dr Yaacob’s approach highlights precisely why Singaporeans need to turn up at Hong Lim Park this Saturday: to get a clear view of the facts about regulations that will affect your lives and the information you consume.

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