“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Thoughts
May 29, 2013

Just In Time

Yesterday, the Media Development Authority announced radical new measures that could have a major impact on digital and online communications here in Singapore. The proposal is aimed at regulating online news sites, requiring them to obtain a license, put up a SG$50,000 (U$39,400) bond and commit to take down within 24 hours, any item deemed […]

Yesterday, the Media Development Authority announced radical new measures that could have a major impact on digital and online communications here in Singapore. The proposal is aimed at regulating online news sites, requiring them to obtain a license, put up a SG$50,000 (U$39,400) bond and commit to take down within 24 hours, any item deemed inappropriate by the government’s Media Development Authority.

The new rules are aimed at sites with high traffic, those “visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month.” The sites currently identified as coming under the phase of regulation are all well known news sites. And the press release, along with this report from Reuters, suggest the government is not looking to regulate blogs, at least, not yet.

The MDA said the new regulation did not apply to blogs, though adding: “If they take on the nature of news sites, we will take a closer look and evaluate them accordingly.”

In fact, when you consider the definition of what might be classified as news reporting, for the purposes of this regulation, it is alarmingly broad.

“…any programme (whether or not the programme is presenter-based and whether or not the programme is provided by a third party) containing any news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language…”

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you had a successful blog, maybe with a focus on music and photography, and you chose to post an article a month on culture and the arts in Singapore. Well, under this new regulation you would find yourself needing to fork over $50,000 just to stay in business!

Of course, I’m nowhere near reaching 50,000 unique views a month solely from Singapore-based readers. That’s theoretically about 1% of the population. But, what if they drop that number? Or, include global readership? Or use some other metric that adds social media reach? After all, I have a bigger twitter following than some of the news services currently being regulated.

In a way, this is also a profoundly anti-entrepreneurial decision. The impulse to regulate mainstream and political news will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Singapore. But, $50,000 is a huge barrier to entry for anyone aspiring to create a high traffic site or blog aggregator in arts, culture or education. And, it could have significant implications for any business, or successful entertainer, who wants to add a blog or comment section to their site.

Update

There has been a lot of commentary about this new policy, both locally and internationally. The following are some quotes I added to this post on May 30th.

“This new regulation is a mistake, and reinforces the perception that Singapore is a repressive place — which is precisely the wrong message to be sending to a globalised and networked world, when you are trying to build an innovative and creative economy where freedom of thought is so essential.”

Siew Kum Hong former general counsel for Yahoo! Southeast Asia – Why Singapore’s crackdown on online news reporting is a mistake

“And there are already signs more regulation is underway. Speaking to local reporters following the announcement of the new licensing rule, Yaacob revealed the Broadcasting Act will be further amended next year to include overseas-based news sites targeting the Singapore market. This will enable the government to apply the licensing framework on these sites, he said.”

Eileen Yu from ZDNet commenting on statements by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim – Singapore’s online licensing rule a sign of more to come

“It’s the ambiguity, the lack of clear specification of what is objectionable that is worrying,” said Terence Lee, an assistant professor of political science at National University of Singapore. “It is very unclear what form or type of content could be seen as violating these standards.”

Shamim Adam and Sharon Chen reporting with Bloomberg News Singapore’s Licensing Rules for News Websites Spark Criticism

“In the MDA’s case, it will not always be easy to draw a line around what it considers “news websites”. It is simple enough to say that a website carrying news that is run by a news organisation should be a “news website”. But what about the rest? What about aggregators, blogs, forums, social networks, online classifieds and everything in between?”

From AsiaOne News The trouble with trying to control the Internet

“It’s hard not to see how this is another attempt to control media—local and international—by the Singapore government,” said Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based journalism watchdog. “Its justification used in the past that strict media controls are necessary to squelch violent political dissent is simply no longer valid,” he said. “It’s hard to argue with Singapore’s economic success. But the disconnect between its economic freedom and media freedom seems to be growing too large.”

Chun Han Wong reporting for the Wall Street Journal Singapore Tightens Grip on Internet News Sites

Responses
Mike Mahoney 7 years ago

I imagine there will be a cost/benefit analysis for any site looking to do business in Singapore. Yahoo can swing the $50K easily enough, If they lower the number, or filter down to blogs or entertainment sites, that will be a bigger deal…

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Mike – there’s been quite a bit of thoughtful, critical commentary here in the last 24 hours. One theme that keeps coming up is how this step makes it unlikely anyone will innovate in the news space, create a “Huffington Post” style news aggregator site, for example.

    Personally, I’m concerned for how this will impact independent sites wanting to do quality work in arts, education and religion. In music, for example, there are some great sites that have started to take off this year and I worry how this might effect their potential to grow.

    And, of course, this ruling is perhaps intended, more than anything else, as an disincentive to outside agencies wanting to setup a digital news service here, like The Guardian just did in Australia.

Toni 7 years ago

Maybe the answer would be to operate an anonymous news site on an off-shore server, but I guess that’s a way around censorship, rather than a realistic way to create a commercial entity.

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Toni – there are three ISPs here and they are all regulated by the government, so having an off-shore server won’t do much. And, the controversy that’s brewing is largely because the way this has been done leaves the door open to regulating lots of sites that are not commercial, or even really news oriented.

Javier I. Sampedro 7 years ago

It is kind of unfair for successful independent blogs as you mention, there should be exceptions. Hope Hong Kong does not take example of Its neighbour.

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Javier – there’s a lot of reporting going on and the things being attributed to the government spokespeople are contradictory at best. But, the consensus among commentators seems to be this will, inevitably, lead to regulation of popular bloggers.

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