In view of Parliament sitting on 8 July, #FreeMyInternet has prepared a policy brief for Members of Parliament to use to prepare for a robust debate on the Media Development Authority’s new licensing regime for online news websites and future amendments to the Broadcasting Act.
Executive Summary of Policy Brief
From 1 June 2013, the Media Development Authority of Singapore put into effect a new licensing regime that gives MDA the power to require a computer online service (including websites) deemed to carry at least 1 Singapore news programme per week and receive at least 50,000 unique visits per month from Singapore for 2 consecutive months to be individually licensed. Ten websites have been identified for licensing.
Licensing conditions include:
- Put up a performance bond of S$50,000
- Upon receiving a notice from MDA, remove any content that is purported to breach MDA’s content standards within 24 hours, failing which the performance bond may be forfeited.
- Such conditions as may be prescribed under Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act, which do not have to be made public.
- If the computer online service is provided by a company incorporated under the Companies Act, the MDA must approve the appointment of Chairman, Chief Executive Officer or Director, and no person may (either alone or together with associates) own more than 5% of the company’s shares without the Minister’s approval.
The group have identified 4 key issues:
- Lack of consultation and transparency in MDA’s policymaking process.
- Disregard for findings from previous consultation exercises like that of the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) in 2007-08.
- Arbitrary and non-transparent implementation of the new licensing regime, including the overtly broad definition of Singapore news programme.
- Ownership and management controls over computer online services hinder Singapore’s development as a global information hub.
An ideal media regulation regime should address concerns of online censorship and aspirations for a larger media and political space online while providing a conducive and predictable legal environment for credible and responsible players to develop and flourish. The group appeal to Members of Parliament to consider the following:
- Withdraw the new licensing regime, or at the very minimum suspend its operation.
- Commission an open and transparent public consultation process with all stakeholders.
- Press for an opportunity for MPs to debate in Parliament the need for changes to the current licensing regime, and if one is necessary the principles required for a fair and transparent framework that does not limit free expression beyond what is strictly needed.
- Address the onerous ownership and management controls over computer online services