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#FreeMyInternet calls on MPs to debate licensing scheme in Parliament

SINGAPORE — A group of bloggers and socio-political websites campaigning against a new licensing scheme for Singapore news websites has called on Members of Parliament (MP) to consider a withdrawal or suspension of the scheme, and to debate it in Parliament ahead of its next sitting on Monday.

TODAY file photo

TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — A group of bloggers and socio-political websites campaigning against a new licensing scheme for Singapore news websites has called on Members of Parliament (MP) to consider a withdrawal or suspension of the scheme, and to debate it in Parliament ahead of its next sitting on Monday.

Yesterday, #FreeMyInternet sent a 12-page document via email to MPs, asking them to discuss in the House the principles “required for a fair and transparent framework that does not limit free expression beyond what is strictly needed”, among other things.

The group also wanted MPs to address the “onerous ownership and management controls over computer online services” such as blogs, mobile applications and online data services. It noted that the Ministry of Communications and Information did not consult the relevant Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) beforehand.

Even before the group’s appeal, some MPs have filed questions on the issue. Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamed, who chairs the GPC for Communications and Information, said he will be asking Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on the lack of public consultation before the scheme was rolled out, and whether an independent board will be set up to determine the future inclusion of any websites under the regime.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, who is the GPC’s Vice-Chairman, said he will be asking if there will be flexibility in imposing the S$50,000 performance bond on individuals operating the news sites, as banks could be unlikely to grant a banker’s guarantee in some instances.

On the appeal by #FreeMyInternet, Mr Baey said: “I don’t think the Government intends to withdraw the changes. Even for public consultation, I don’t think the Government wants to give false expectations by doing so and then no changes are made. It may just leave the public more bitter and disillusioned.”

Mr Baey and Mr Zaqy felt that, going forward, a more realistic outcome would be for the MPs to work with the authorities to refine the policy after taking in account public feedback.

Apart from the “lack of consultation and transparency”, the group also noted that a 2008 report by Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media had concluded that the online space for political speech should be expanded.

The group said that, among other things, it was concerned that licensed websites could be subjected to ownership requirements under the Broadcasting Act.

Mr Howard Lee from socio-political site The Online Citizen said: “We know that this rule of the Government having a say in the ownership and management applies to broadcasters. If websites now fall under the same regulatory umbrella, we can only assume that they are just as susceptible to it, and the Media Development Authority (MDA) has not clearly articulated otherwise.”

Last month, the MDA announced that 10 websites — owned by MediaCorp, Singapore Press Holdings and Yahoo! News Singapore — would be required to apply for individual licence. The criteria for a news site to be licensed are: It has 50,000 unique Singapore visitors each month over a period of two months and publishes an average of at least one article a week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over the same period. TAN WEIZHEN

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