Yaccob Ibrahim: Govt looking to amend broadcasting Act to address “risk of misinformation”

Minister for Communication and Information (MCI) Yaacob Ibrahim has announced during the Committee of Supply Debate on Monday (6 March) that the Government is currently looking to amend Broadcasting Act (BA) to address misinformation.

The Minister said that he had previously spoken about the plans to update the Films Act, which was enacted back when screening a film required a physical copy on a reel.

"Today, films can be directly streamed from overseas. We will be updating the Films Act for this digital age. We have started consulting some key stakeholders and will do a wider public consultation very soon," he stressed.

Dr Yaacob then stated that his Ministry will also update the Broadcasting Act (BA) this year, saying that Singaporeans now have access to a wide variety of content on the internet and are no longer limited to services offered by Mediacorp or our subscription TV operators.

When overseas content providers are directly targeting Singaporeans, Dr Yaacob stressed that the Government needs to ensure that their content is in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony.

"We are studying this carefully, to make sure that any changes we make will not add undue burden to businesses," he said.

In reviewing the amendments to the BA, the Minister noted that the Government will rationalise some of the changes made in past years.

He then said that one example is the 2013 Online News Licensing Scheme for accountability and responsibility in news reporting.

According to the Minister, many members have spoken about the increase in and dangers of “fake news”.

"The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly," he stressed.

In addition, the Minister also said that he is heartened that industry giants like Facebook and Google have realised that some control is necessary in this environment where misinformation can spread so easily.

As people might have known, Google has prohibited advertisements on sites with deliberate misinformation, while Facebook is mobilising users to call out misinformation in their news feeds.

"We are studying this carefully, to make sure that any changes we make will not add undue burden to businesses," he said.

"Amending the BA is the first step," he said, adding that the Government remains committed to harmonising the legislation for a converged infocomm and media environment for the longer term.

"Yet, even as we update our legislation and regulations, it is even more important that those who use, create and share content on the Internet do so safely and responsibly, while being discerning on any information they find online," Dr Yacob said.

"To this end, we will continue to promote information and media literacy to all Singaporeans, particularly our young and those who may be vulnerable," he added.

On 28 May 2013, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) declared that within three days, websites reporting on Singapore news, and with significant reach, will have to be individually licensed under Broadcasting Act of 2013.

For many Singaporeans, this came across as an attempt by the state to exert greater control and censorship over the Internet.

The rules were that websites which produce an average of at least one Singapore news a week for a period of two consecutive months and visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over the same period of two months, will have to be individually licensed.

In addition, MDA stressed that these websites will have to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and will be obligated to comply with any content takedown notice by MDA within a 24- hour period.

A total of ten websites were asked to register with MDA in 2013 and another, Mothership.sg was asked register in August 2015 just before the General Election 2015.

The terms of the introduced license give officials virtually unlimited authority to force the removal of any content that they consider violates broadly defined notions of “the public interest, public order or national harmony” or contains content that “offends against good taste or decency.”

In response to the amendment of BA, several bloggers staged black-outs of their websites in protest, and a group of bloggers, #FreeMyInternet, staged a protest at Hong Lim Park on 8 June 2013.

For news websites that are not asked to register under the 2013 regulation, they were asked to registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which was enacted under Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act which required the websites to declare their sources of income to MDA.

The Independent Singapore was ordered in July 2013 to register under the Class Licence, while TOC was ordered in September 2014, and The Breakfast Networkwhich decided to close its operations when ordered to register in December 2013 but subsequently reopened as Middleground in 2015.

This entry was posted in Media, Parliament.
This entry was posted in Media, Parliament.