I have written about many things throughout this blog’s ‘life’: my travels, my work, my family, etc. But the most important things I have written about – indeed, the very reason I started this blog – have been about issues relating to my home country and the society I was born and brought up in.
This blog (and all the other writing I’ve done elsewhere online) helped me to learn about myself and the world around me. It helped me in my journey from an ‘apathetic’ young Singaporean – you know, the type so many of us have complained about? – to an engaged citizen, concerned with what’s going on in my country.
So many Ministers and Members of Parliament have said that it is important for Singaporeans to step up and come forward for their country. My blog has been an instrumental part of helping me do just that.
Which is exactly why I am so angry and disappointed about this new licensing regime that the Media Development Authority (MDA) has announced.
This new regulation, slipped in under the radar without even a squeak of a mention in Parliament, has the potential to curb the very online activity that has helped me – and many more like me – to become more involved in the Singapore we call home. It is a broad, vague piece of regulation that causes uncertainty among bloggers and gives the state far more discretion than it should have.
It’s extremely discouraging, especially when the government has promised a “light touch” on the Internet and launched a Singapore Conversation in a time where we’re meant to be embracing the “new normal”.
What happened to the promised openness and engagement? What happened to the Singapore Conversation?
In his interview with the BBC, Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said, “We want to protect the interest of the ordinary Singaporean. As long as they go online to read the news I think it’s important to make sure that they read the ‘right thing’, insofar as if there’s an event yesterday it is reported accurately.”
He might clarify that by “the ‘right thing’” he was referring to accurate information, but this licensing regime goes so much further than that. Rather than just limiting the MDA’s powers to demanding the take-down of inaccurate or false information – or issuing of corrections and/or clarifications – this new regulation allows the MDA to demand the removal of any content they deem to be objectionable. The definition of what is objectionable is so unclear as to be laughable.
As the authorities are quick to point out, none of our blogs have been singled out yet for licensing. The keyword here is “yet”. Should they one day determine and decide that we fulfil the criteria and are in need of a license, we will be informed. And then we’ll have to stump up the $50,000 or shut down.
I don’t know a single blogger who will has that sort of money to burn.
This could very easily and very quickly lead to the erosion of citizen journalism and discussion on the Internet. Websites like The Online Citizen would disappear because of their inability to raise the money. On top of the defamation suits and warning letters that has already been the government’s standard practice, we’re going to have the MDA issuing take-down notices to licensed websites, and they would be required to comply or forfeit the $50,000.
This licensing regime makes a mockery of all Singaporeans – pushed through without even any consultation or discussion, it is a clear message that our government is not interested in hearing its people, Our Singapore Conversation be damned. It is an ill-conceived blunt tool that is more interested in censorship and control rather than an inclusive and engaged citizenry. For this reason, this new regulation must be withdrawn.
Some bloggers have got together to oppose this new licensing regime, and to launch a campaign to urge the government to halt its implementation. We’re looking for other bloggers who want to join us. And not just bloggers; anyone who uses the Internet to read news and participate in discussions should be interested in being a part of this movement. This is something that affects all of us.
Plans for the campaign will be announced in due course. For now, please visit Write To Think, Singapore and follow the guides to write to your Member of Parliament urging them to take action.