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‘Free My Internet’ blackout draws diverse range of participants

SINGAPORE — A variety of websites and blogs - even ones that do not appear to feature “Singapore’s news and current affairs” - took part in today’s (June 6) one-day online blackout to protest the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) new licensing rules for Singapore news websites, although some continued to post on other platforms such as Facebook.

SINGAPORE — A variety of websites and blogs - even ones that do not appear to feature “Singapore’s news and current affairs” - took part in today’s (June 6) one-day online blackout to protest the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) new licensing rules for Singapore news websites, although some continued to post on other platforms such as Facebook.

By the time the blackout started today, 150 websites and blogs had signed up for the protest, including several lesser-known food and parenting blogs. Prominent websites that took part included The Online Citizen and Yawning Bread, as well as websites of establishments such as The Substation.

Visitors to these sites would see a black “screen” overlaying the website, with the message “#FreeMyInternet”, and details of the protest at Hong Lim Park tomorrow (Sat).

The blackout was organised by Free My Internet, a group comprising of socio-political websites and bloggers who banded together to protest against the licensing regime, which they say restricts freedom of speech.

The rules affect websites which have “significant reach” — defined as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month over a period of two months — and publish an average of at least one article a week on “Singapore’s news and current affairs” over the same period.

Bloggers which participated in the blackout felt it was important to remind ordinary Singaporeans of their right to a free flow of information.

Mr Winston Tay, 35, owner of parenting and social commentary blog blogfather.sg, said: “This exercise is directed at the ordinary Singaporean who might not be aware of the implications of these new rules.”

He added: “I wanted them, as well as myself, to get a feel of how it would be like if everyone shuts up.”

Some readers of socio-political websites and blogs felt the protest needed to reach those not in the usual audience of such sites.

Said Masters student David Bala, 33, a regular reader of sites such as The Online Citizen: “Awareness among those already active online is already there. We need to bring this to the regular public to build the conviction that what is happening is not tolerable.”

Notable was the absence of several prominent sites from the blackout, such as news commentary website The Breakfast Network and socio-political website The Real Singapore.

Editor of the Breakfast Network, Ms Bertha Henson, said that she had already said her piece on the affair. “I have already made my views on the scheme known very publicly, so I see no need to join in the blackout. Also, the Breakfast Network wants to keep reporting on the news, and serving our readers daily,” she said.

Organisers of the blackout felt it was a success, noting the diversity of websites that took part.

“Clearly, Singaporeans from all walks felt the threat of the new licencing regulation, for their own reasons,” said The Online Citizen deputy editor Howard Lee. “We hope the success of the blackout will send a clear message to MDA, that they are grossly mistaken about the impact this new regulation has on the online community.”

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