Online press freedom is being challenged by the Singapore government. According to latest reports, the Singapore government has taken constructive steps to put a framework so that it can monitor websites that cover local news. (News Source: TNW)
The recent development was listed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore in a press statement that states from the 1st of June 2013, online news sites reporting regularly on issues relating to Singapore and have significant reach among readers, will require an individual license from the MDA.
Under the new licensing framework, the online news site will be individually licensed if they – 1) report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and (ii) are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months. The latest change has been framed to make a more consistent regulatory framework along with traditional news platforms which are already individually licensed.
The new guidelines also make it clear that online news sites are required to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and online news sites are expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards. However, there has been no change in content standards that follow the Internet Code of Practice which undermines racial or religious harmony content as “prohibited content.”
The MDA in its statement, also made it clear that the licensing framework are part of MDA’s efforts to periodically review all policies, to ensure they are in line with industry and consumer developments. However, if online news fail to comply with any of the conditions that have been listed by MDA then it has the power to “impose financial penalties or suspend or revoke the incumbent’s license,” reports Singapore’s Today. Additionally, the Broadcasting Act empowers MDA to prosecute the site owner in Court for unlicensed services and the incumbent shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding S$200,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both.
The latest regulations will be imposed on ten local news websites like The Straits Times, Business Times, Omy, Channel News Asia, etc. with the exception of Yahoo! News Singapore, which does not yet have a media license. The MDA going further will evaluate if other sites with significant reach need to be brought under the current framework.
The latest framework which has been brought in with the intention to monitor free speech has already stirred up some heated debate in the country, which has been criticized in the past for such behaviours. I’m not sure how the local press is responding to this news but it is surely going to bring down it’s position in the 2012-13 Press Freedom index which is at a record low position of 149 among 179 ranked countries.
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