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MDA working with licensed news sites to make new rules ‘clearer’

SINGAPORE — The Media Development Authority (MDA) is working with the licensed news websites to tweak the wording of the licensing rules but the key thrusts will not be changed, said Ministry of Communications and Information Permanent Secretary Aubeck Kam, who yesterday faced a barrage of more than 20 questions over two hours about the new rules at a forum organised by the Singapore Computer Society.

SINGAPORE — The Media Development Authority (MDA) is working with the licensed news websites to tweak the wording of the licensing rules but the key thrusts will not be changed, said Ministry of Communications and Information Permanent Secretary Aubeck Kam, who yesterday faced a barrage of more than 20 questions over two hours about the new rules at a forum organised by the Singapore Computer Society.

Mr Kam declined to elaborate on what specific clauses could be tweaked. The draft of the agreement which will be signed by the licensees is likely to be finalised in about a month, he said. “The key perimeters are not major points of contention,” he said, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the forum.

Mr Kam added: “We are at the stage where the 10 licensees have studied the conditions, and they are giving feedback (on) how can we improve the wording, make it clearer ... so that (the licensees) are as clear as possible what the obligation is.”

During a question and answer session, Mr Kam also addressed concerns from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which had sent a three-page letter last month to Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

Among other things, the coalition — comprising Internet giants Facebook, Google, eBay, Yahoo! and SalesForce — was concerned about the 24-hour deadline to comply with a takedown notice and the liability for third-party content. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Communications and Information issued a reply to the AIC.

Mr Kam also said that the 24-hour deadline would only take effect from the time a formal takedown notice is issued. For example, the Government had verbally informed Google to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” video clip from YouTube a “few days” before issuing a formal takedown notice, he said.

AIC spokesman John Ure, who attended the forum, questioned why the new rules were necessary, as existing laws would have covered restricted content such as racial hate and pornography. Mr Ure also claimed that Internet companies in the West are more successful compared to their Asian counterparts because the latter have been restricted by rules and regulations.

Mr Kam replied: “I think the wrong thing to do is to look at what is being done for online news sites, and to extrapolate from that and say this is the way which we dealt with every other issue or problem.”

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng, a member of the Media Literacy Council, disagreed with Mr Ure.

Mr Cheng said that he “(fails) to see how the Internet is a special creature that should be exempt from normal laws that exist in our society”.

Mr Kam reiterated that the online content standards ought to “reflect the ethos and values of society”.

A member of the audience asked Mr Kam why the MDA could not trust the online community to act responsibly. Mr Kam, a former high-ranking police officer, said: “There are laws and there are also efforts to educate the public. I think they will always co-exist ... it is also a bit idealistic to expect that education is always the solution.”

Earlier, in a short speech, Mr Kam reiterated that the new rules were necessary as readers make important decisions based on information they receive. He also cited the trend of media convergence which necessitates a more consistent regulation framework.

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