By now, most Singaporeans would have heard of the government’s new licensing requirement that would require that all online news sites with unique visitors of more than 50,000 in two months and which publish at least an article per week to be licensed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on an annual basis. The online news sites are required to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and if the MDA deems that any article published by these sites are contrary to what the MDA, by their unilateral decision, believes is against their standards, they would require the site take down the article within 24 hours of notice.
On Thursday, a group of more than 20 Singaporeans with an online presence, such as The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus, publichouse.sg and including this blog, The Heart Truths, released a media statement to denounce the government’s action and demand a retraction of the licensing requirement. We believe that the licensing requirement has been imposed on Singaporeans without following the due consultation and process and is a contravention of our constitutional rights and freedom.
But the question that is on everyone’s minds now would be this – why the hell did the government even do something as silly as to try to regulate an increasingly buoyant and effervescent Internet of netizens, who have been increasingly feeling more empowered as the voice that they had lost through years of systematic repression under the guise of state-controlled media and education could finally find its way out through the glimmer of hope of the Internet.
And once Singaporeans found our new-gained freedom and the return of our rights, we will guard it very strongly and safely. And now, we will not allow the government to walk all over us, like they had used to.
Which begs the question – why did the government even believe that they could announce and implement this licensing requirement without there being an ensuing uproar, and where they had actually believed that Singaporeans would take it sitting down? Perhaps they had expected it, but you can bet on it that they hadn’t in their wildest imaginations, think that the people would fight back as fervently as they would.
If we could steal a peak into their back rooms, it is likely that they are now tearing their hairs out, trying to fight the fire which is threatening to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Why Did The Government Do It?
But so, why did the government do it?
You just need to look at the past events of just this year and you would understand why.
- In January this year, Prime Minister Lee had threatened well-known and influential blogger Alex Au with defamation.
- A more recent case was how cartoonist Leslie Chew of Demon-cratic Singapore was arrested on charges of sedition.
- Filmmaker Lynn Lee was also held and investigated by the police for making a documentary of the bus drivers who had striked last year.
- “The Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) had (also) issued take-down letters and demanded apologies from several websites over posts which it said cast doubt on the judiciary’s integrity in a case involving a China national.”
There were a few other cases, but let’s just look at these.
The question that you want to ask is this – had any of these actions by the government been effective?
Well, the answer is quite clear, isn’t it? When PM Lee had threatened to sue Alex, he couldn’t possibly go all the way and sue him. If he did, not only would Alex become a cult status symbol, many people would come into Alex’s way to support him and donate for his cause. Not only would Alex ride on a wave of popularity, PAP’s reputation would immediately be dented. The arguments that can be levelled against the PAP are many – how can the government bully one singular Singaporean? Why does the government want to cut away one of the key sources of reputable news analysis outside the government’s realm of control? Suing Alex would have multiple implications and would, without fail, help PAP to lose even more votes at the next general elections.
Needless to say, the government is now holding off on multiple arrests and investigations because they know how these will backfire on them. Singaporeans will rise up and push them down. Already, a Singaporean had threatened to sue the courts back.
In part 2 of this article, I will explain to you why the government has thus enacted the licensing requirement. They needed to put Singaporeans back in their stables.
Part 2 of the article will be released at 6pm today. This is Part 1 of 3 articles.