Letter to MDA: Feedback on New Licensing Framework for Online News Sites (Part 3 – MDA’s Response)

The MDA had responded to the second email that I had sent. Please see below the email and my subsequent response below as well.

You can see the first email that I had sent here, and the MDA’s first email response and my subsequent response to that email here.

*****

Please see below the MDA’s second email:

Dear Mr Ngerng,

Thank you for your feedback.

We would like to reiterate and elaborate on our earlier point that the content standards for these news sites remainsthe same even under the new licensing framework. The existing Class Licence requires Internet Content Providers to ensure that content on their sites do not go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency. These are broad terms that are open to interpretation in terms of the range of possible violations.  While they may be appropriate for the Class Licence because of the diverse range of content on the Internet, we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.

For example, the licence provides more clarity on what it means for news sites to offer information in a way that threatens “public order” with specific examples:

  • If the content undermines public confidence in the law and its enforcement in Singapore.
  • If the sites present information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public.
  • If the content contains extremist or anarchic messages, such as advocating or promoting the use of violence.

As for content that threatens “national harmony”, the guidelines are closely tied with race and religion, given the importance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore:

  • Content that incites or is likely to incite intolerance or misunderstanding among the main racial and religious groups in Singapore.
  • Content that denigrates or is likely to offend the sensitivities of any racial or religious group.
  • Content that promotes or justifies hatred and enmity against other racial and religious groups.

Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, as long as the assessments are well-intentioned, and not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention to mislead the public.

We would like to stress therefore that there is no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites, as the content on these news sites continue to be guided by the same content standards as when they were class-licensed.

Given that there is no change in the standards, our judicious record of issuing take-down notices continues to be relevant. Since the class license scheme came into effect in 1996, there has only been one take-down notice for religiously-offensive content (i.e. the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video), and the other 23 instances were mainly for pornographic content and advertisements soliciting for sex or sex chats which arose from public complaints.

Bearing in mind the speed at which Internet content can be published and disseminated, we are of the opinion that online news sites with a significant reach (and hence impact on Singaporeans) do not carry prohibited content and if they do, to take down such content as soon as possible. In this regard, our assessment is that a site which has a reach of over 50,000 monthly unique IP addresses on average for two months is considered to have significant reach, and therefore should be individually licensed to place a stronger onus on the individual licensee operating that website to report responsibly. We would also like to add that we use a combination of traffic monitoring tools and perception-based surveys; nonetheless, in respect of the commercial sensitivity of websites which may not wish to reveal their statistics, we hope you will understand that we are unable to provide such info to the public.

We would like to share that the move to individually license news sites is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement of the Class Licensing scheme which was also introduced via subsidiary legislation in 1996. Where there is a new policy direction, such as the upcoming amendment in the Broadcasting Act, the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.

Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.

Kindly click here if you wish to participate in our customer service survey.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Media Development Authority

*****

Please see below my response:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I appreciate that you take to respond to my email. I understand as well the difficulties and predicament that you are in, seeing that you might not be privy to all the decisions made about this licensing framework. And so, I am grateful that you continue to make the effort to justify this “licensing framework”.

Thank you for your email and reiteration. If I may, it still doesn’t answer the questions that have been raised.

Please see below the specific questions. I hope that Singaporeans would be able to receive a clear response directed at each of these questions.

  1. The MDA has decided to license “online news sites”. Which are these “online news sites” and what are their current unique visitors. Please release (1) the full list of all sites considered to be “online news sites”, (2) the respective unique visitors of all these sites, regardless of their current unique visitors, (3) sites which are currently not considered as “online news sites” but have the potential to be inducted into these sites, and their (4) respective unique visitors. Please release the full list of the “online news sites” and potential sites and their unique visitors.
  2. You had mentioned in the email that, “the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.” Please release the report which the “licensing framework” was developed upon. Please release (1) the full names of the members involved in drafting this report, (2) the surveys and research conducted which had led to the “framework, (3) the overall conclusion and why the “licensing framework” was thus developed. Please release the report in its entirety.
  3. You had mentioned that, “we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.” However, you have also acknowledged and admitted that, “the move to individually license news sites is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement”. According to my understanding, the refinement is specific to the imposition of a $50,000 performance bond and a take-down order which is in the sole decision of the MDA, for “online news sites” which “reach of over 50,000 monthly unique IP addresses” and publish one “news article” in two weeks. I fail to understand how the imposition of these numerical and financial requirements allow there to be more “clarity”. This does not aid readers to be able to make “informed decisions”. Rather, it penalises “online news websites” without the intended effect, whatsoever. Given this, the only logical conclusion that I can make is that the “licensing framework” is indeed an “attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites”, even as the MDA claims that this would not be.
  4. Until now, Singaporeans still do not have clarity in content which might be deemed to “go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency” and “information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public”. If the MDA would want to provide “clarity”, the MDA should first clarify on these criteria, which continues to perplex Singaporeans. The MDA has to open a consultation with Singaporeans and online users to further define this criterion to provide more “clarity” if this is indeed the aim of the MDA.

I understand the situation that the MDA is in and I am sympathetic. However, as the government body placed in the position to announce the “licensing framework”, the MDA has to respond adequately to public queries, unless the MDA would like to invite an external party to field queries, as you had on the Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point. It continues to perplex Singaporeans why an unrelated minister, the Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had replaced the MDA CEO to field questions on the talkshow instead.

I look forward to receiving a response from MDA with a point-by-point response. I do not wish to see a response that provides an overall and generic statement aimed at diverting my understanding.

Thank you.

Roy Ngerng

*****

Dear Singaporeans, I would leave it to you to discern for yourself the implications of the “licensing framework” and the impact that it can have on our future ability to continue to speak up for ourselves, and to be able to read and be informed adequately.

I believe that the “licensing framework” is harmful and is tantamount the severely constriction of Singaporeans’ ability to seek information, as we currently are able to now.

The #FreeMyInternet group of online websites and bloggers will be protesting against the “licensing framework” to demand a retraction of this ruling. I will be attending and speaking at the protest.

The protest will be held at the Hong Lim Park from 4.00pm to 7.00pm today.

If you would like to attend the protest, you can join the Facebook event page and find out more information here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/185882738236629/

You can also sign the online petition here:

http://www.petitions24.com/petition_for_the_immediate_withdrawal_of_the_licensing_regime

For the sake of our independence, we have to take a stand and speak up for our rights. We have to protect our rights and freedom.

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5 comments

  1. Yeoh Lian Chuan

    Hi Roy:

    Some points of clarification:

    2. I think you may have misread MDA on this. MDA said “Where there is a new policy direction, such as the upcoming amendment in the Broadcasting Act, the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.” … You seem to have commingled this with the existing licensing framework in your follow up question?

    3. With regard to MDA’s comment that – “we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.”, you seem to think the clarity rests on the S$50k bond requirement and the 24-hour take down notice. This is again a misreading of what MDA meant. MDA’s response paras 3 and 4 gave examples of what they intended by more clarity on what is or is not prohibited content. For example, MDA say that comments against “public order” are “If the content undermines public confidence in the law and its enforcement in Singapore.” This would cover, for example, an unwarranted allegation of bias against the judiciary. As you know (although you may or may not agree) the Singapore Government considers that attacking the integrity of the judiciary is a no-no. The licence guidelines seek to provide clarity on points such as these.

    4. Same comment as for (3).

    • My Right to Love

      Hi Lian Chuan,

      This is not a misreading.

      I will leave it to discerning readers to form their own opinions.

      One day, when your rights are at stake, you will know how important it is to protect it.

      Roy

      • Anthony Sim

        My sentiment is exactly the same. There is no reason for this refined or extended legislation. It is uncalled for and have created a whole lot or questions concerning the freedom expression. I am still puzzled and not too sure about the implications of this legislation. Singapore judicial system is very extensive and covers pretty well with pristine law and order not seen in many country. People are very civil and people do not like when there are too many laws and subsequent ones which are not reflective with the time we are living in. By the way, why is Jacoob Abrahim not making himself available to address these concerns.

  2. Pingback: Letter to MDA: Feedback on New Licensing Framework for Online News Sites (Part 4 – MDA’s Response) | The Heart Truths
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