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Broadcasting Act to be updated amid challenges in media scene

SINGAPORE — The Broadcasting Act will be updated this year to take into account changes to the media landscape, among them the wide variety of content on the Internet.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. TODAY file photo

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — The Broadcasting Act will be updated this year to take into account changes to the media landscape, among them the wide variety of content on the Internet.

With overseas content providers directly targeting Singaporeans, the Government needs to ensure that their content is in line with community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony, said Minister for Communications and Information (MCI) Yaacob Ibrahim during the debate on his ministry’s budget on Monday (March 6).

The amendments will also rationalise some of the changes made in past years, such as licensing rules for online news sites rolled out in 2013.

The MCI will also launch a public consultation to update the Films Act, said Dr Yaacob, noting that the Act was “enacted back when a film required a physical copy on a reel”. Dr Yaacob first said that these two pieces of legislation will be reviewed during his ministry’s addendum to President Tony Tan’s address last year, “to keep pace with the demands of the converged infocomm media space”.

Noting concerns shared by Members of Parliament (MPs) over the increase in and dangers of “fake news” during the debate on his ministry’s budget, Dr Yaacob said: “(Singaporeans) are no longer limited to services offered by Mediacorp or our subscription TV operators ... 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.”

Industry giants such as Google and Facebook have taken steps to curb the spread of misinformation, noted the Minister, who also said that in reviewing amendments to the Broadcasting Act, it will “rationalise” changes made in previous years. This includes the 2013 Online News Licensing Scheme for accountability and 
responsibility in news reporting.

Facebook launched a tool in January 2015 to let users report false information, but it still came under fire in the wake of the United States presidential elections last year for feeding people fake news that validated their choice of candidate while vilifying the opponent.

Noting that the Government has “limited leverage” over foreign content producers, Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) questioned how the MCI would tackle foreign content creators that use Singapore as a base to distribute content that is “sensitive to our neighbours”.

While acknowledging that a draconian approach to clamping down on “fake news” would harm the Republic’s image as an open society, Mr Ong stressed: “For a young country like Singapore, the risk of fake news exploiting racial or religious sentiment is real.”

He also noted the challenges of defining “objectionable content” and “fake news”, noting that some use the terms loosely to describe any news or opinion they do not agree with.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) meanwhile sought more information on how the ministry plans to balance regulation and a “market friendly approach” to uphold Singapore as a communications hub. Dr Yaacob said the MCI will ensure changes to the Broadcasting Act “will not add undue burden to businesses”, adding that details will be announced soon.

Urging Singaporeans to be discerning in using online content, he said: “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 … We will continue to promote information and media literacy to all Singaporeans, particularly our young and those who may be vulnerable.”

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