I had written an email to the MDA regarding their announcement and subsequent implementation of the new “licensing framework” .You can read the email here.
The MDA had finally replied after almost one week. Please see below the MDA’s response, and my respond after.
Dear Mr Ngerng,
We would like to clarify that the new licensing framework is not intended as a clampdown on Internet freedom or speech. There is also no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites. Rather, as online news platforms increase in reach, it simply aims to ensure greater regulatory consistency between traditional and online news platforms. MDA has typically used reach as a criterion for various licences; in this case, we have determined that a news site which offers at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months and is visited from at least 50,000 monthly unique local IP addresses within that same period commands sufficient reach to fall within our framework and be individually licensed.
We would also like to stress that there is no change to the content standards under the new licensing framework as the previous class licence. The content guidelines within the licence only serve to provide greater clarity on what would already be considered “prohibited content” under the existing Internet Code of Practice. MDA’s content guidelines are focused on the core content concerns that would threaten the social fabric and national interests of our country. Examples include content that incites hatred between racial and religious groups; presents information in a manner that is likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public; or contains extremist or anarchic messages, such as advocating or promoting the use of violence.
At this point, MDA has assessed that only ten sites require an individual licence. The list of these sites were made public last week. Until such point that we notify other sites, they will remain class-licensed and need not apply for an individual licence.
We hope this clarifies your queries. Thank you.
Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.
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Media Development Authority
I had written back to the MDA to seek further clarifications. Please see my response below.
Thank you for your reply.
I do have further enquiries, in my personal capacity, and hope that the Media Develop Authority (MDA) would be able to respond as well.
- You had mentioned in your email that “There is also no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites.” However, if I may ask, what would the intended consequences on these sites by the MDA be on the imposition of a $50,000 performance bond and the allowance that the MDA would be able to ask sites to take down their articles within 24 hours, which I understand would be a unilateral decision by the MDA.
- I am also concerned as to whether the right to such a decision should be concentrated among a select group of people within the MDA (or above). At this point, I do not believe that Singaporeans would be suitably assured that the MDA would be able to make an adequate or representative decision, that’s informed by the will of Singaporeans. My rationale stems from also having read about the displeasure among Singaporeans that has been aroused by the MDA’s announcement and implementation of this new “licensing framework”. More importantly, I believe that the MDA would need to recognise that it wasn’t voted into its job by Singaporeans.
- You had mentioned that, “MDA has typically used reach as a criterion for various licences”. May I understand your definition and explanation of “typical” and how the criterion of (1) “50,000 monthly unique local IP addresses” and (2) “at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months” can be considered as “typical”. If I may understand, how had these criterion been “typically”-developed and what were the basis for these criterion? This was a question that I had asked in my initial email, which had not been addressed.
- You had also mentioned that, “there is no change to the content standards under the new licensing framework as the previous class licence”, which I understand then that the additional requirements under the new “licensing framework” would be the introduction of (1) the $50,000 performance bond and (2) the allowance for MDA to unilaterally take down articles within 24 hours, which would go back to the first question – How would this new penalties affect “Internet freedom or speech” and even as the MDA might say that this “new licensing framework is not intended as a clampdown”, the very imposition of these penalties would necessarily result in “the editorial slant of these news sites” being influenced, unless the MDA believes that these penalties would have other effects?
- You had mentioned that, “At this point, MDA has assessed that only ten sites require an individual licence.” However, sites such as The Online Citizen had said that, “Based on publicly available data of visitorship statistics for TOC … it would appear that the licensing regime could apply to TOC.” I would like the MDA to release (1) the complete list of sites that the MDA have categorised as “online news sites” and (2) their respective number of “monthly unique local IP addresses”. This is a right to information that I, as a Singaporean, has the right to know.
- In addition, the government had said that blogs do not come under this “licensing framework”. For clarity, I would like the MDA to (1) amend the wording of the new “licensing framework” in full and public consultation with Singaporeans and the netizens of the group, #FreeMyInternet, they being one of the largest stakeholders in the online community in Singapore, and (2) to release the complete list of “online news sites” and their respective monthly unique local IP addresses.
- Finally, I had enquired in my previous email about how the “licensing framework” came about, whether the broad spectrum of Singaporeans were generally consulted, and if so, who, and also, on the report recommendation. I would like the MDA to furnish this report and the representatives who had been consulted on and had drafted this report.
If the MDA is not able to fully address the concerns outlined above and cannot suitably respond to the queries, I would demand that the “licensing framework” be retracted with immediate effect.
This email is written in my personal capacity as a Singaporean citizen, under my constitutional rights.
I look forward to your response.