Letter to MDA: Feedback on New Licensing Framework for Online News Sites (Part 4 – MDA’s Response)

The MDA had responded to the third 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, the MDA’s first response (and my response) here, and the MDA’s second response (and my response) here.

*****

Please see below the MDA’s second email:

Dear Mr Ngerng,

There is no subsequent tranche of sites which will be individually licensed.  When MDA makes a determination that a new site has met the criteria and needs to be individually licensed, we will notify the site owner. With regard to your specific request to release info on potentially licensable news sites, we have stated in our earlier reply and we reiterate that we will not be releasing such info. To do so before we even determine that any website is indeed an individually licensable news site is premature. To disclose the reach of websites that we have not even determined to be “news sites” is even more irresponsible, and in respect of the commercial sensitivity of such info, we will not be disclosing such info.

We have also stated in our earlier reply that the move to individually license online news providers is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement of the Class Licensing scheme which was  introduced via subsidiary legislation in 1996. Traditional news providers are today already individually licensed, and given that more and more Singaporeans access news and current affairs over the Internet, this refinement was to make consistent our regulatory approach for traditional and online news platforms. 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.

We would also like to reiterate our earlier point that the content standards remain the same even under the new licensing framework. Since there is no change to the content standards, we fail to see how the licensing framework will influence the editorial slant of these news sites. Take-down notices will only be issued for breaches of these content guidelines. Similarly, the $50,000 performance bond is only held to licensees’ compliance of these content standards and take-down notices.

As for examples of prohibited content, examples which we have provided previously are as follows:

  • Content which offends against good taste, decency or morality – gory pictures of the Tampines Ave 7 accident which happened last year;
  • Content which undermines racial and religious harmony in Singapore – the “Innocence of Muslims” video, for which MDA issued a blocking notice to Google.

We have not come across content that presents “information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public” and are not willing to provide speculative examples. However, as and when such scenarios do arise (though we sincerely hope not) and we issue a take-down notice for it, we will ensure that the public is aware of it, just as we did when we had issued a blocking notice to Google last year.

Thank you.

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,

Thank you for your email. It’s greatly appreciated.

I do have further queries and hope that you will be able to address them.

  1. You had said that “there is no subsequent tranche of sites”. I would like to understand how the MDA then “makes a determination that a new site has met the criteria” if there is no “tranche of sites” that the MDA currently monitors. From a planning perspective, this is arbitrary and there is a lack of clarity. I would like to understand the steps that the MDA would take towards identifying and “determining” these “news sites” and licensing them.
  2. You had said that, “in respect of the commercial sensitivity of such info, we will not be disclosing such info.” However, the MDA had also released 10 sites which “are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months.” I would like to know if the MDA believes that it had respected the “commercial sensitivity” of these sites by disclosing the 10 sites.
  3. Similarly, if the MDA is able to release a batched list of sites according to the “unique IP addresses”, can the MDA similarly release other “batched lists” of other sites as well?
  4. You had mentioned that you would like to respect the “commercial sensitivity” of the sites. Does it mean that this ruling would apply only to “commercial sites”?
  5. Also, for sites which are not commercial, how does the respect of “commercial sensitivity” apply here?
  6. You had said that, “where there 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.” I would like to understand how the MDA makes a distinction between a “refinement” and an “amendment”.
  7. I would also like to know from the MDA, that if Singaporeans believe that the so-called “refinement” of the “$50,000 performance bond” and “take-down notices” should be put on hold and a consultation opened with the “public for its views”, would the MDA do so?
  8. You had said that, “the $50,000 performance bond is only held to licensees’ compliance of these content standards and take-down notices”. I would like to understand as to who would be deciding on the “compliance”?
  9. I would also like to understand if the MDA believes that it is in the best position to decide on such “compliance”.
  10. You had said that the MDA has not “come across content that presents “information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause panic to the public” and that you “are not willing to provide speculative examples”. I would like to understand that if the MDA is “not willing to provide speculative examples”, does the MDA then have clarity as to what these “information, events or depictions” are?
  11. Also, what does the MDA mean by “mislead”, and “cause panic to the public”?
  12. I appreciate the MDA’s effort to “ensure that the public is aware of” any “scenarios” where the MDA would “issue a take-down notice” to a site. However, I would like to know if there in the event of such a “scenario”, would there be a consultation with the public as to whether the site had been “found to be in breach of content standards”.

I appreciate the MDA for responding to my emails and look forward to your response on this email.

Thank you.

Roy Ngerng

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