News / Asia

Internet Heavyweights Criticize Singapore's 'Regressive' New Rules

Protesters walk past a mock gravestone that reads 'RIP Freedom of Speech' during a protest against new licensing regulations imposed by the government for online news sites, at Hong Lim Park in Singapore, June 8, 2013.
Protesters walk past a mock gravestone that reads 'RIP Freedom of Speech' during a protest against new licensing regulations imposed by the government for online news sites, at Hong Lim Park in Singapore, June 8, 2013.
Reuters
Singapore's move to tighten regulation of news websites, already under fire from bloggers and human rights groups, has attracted criticism from an unexpected quarter - large Internet firms with a big presence in the city-state that say the new rules will hurt the industry.

Web giants Facebook, eBay, Google and Yahoo have said the revised rules “have negatively affected Singapore's global image as an open and business-friendly country.”

The comments, made in a letter to the Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, by the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry body, are the first sign that Singapore's success in wooing major players is not assured.

Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo all have a major presence in the city-state.

Google said separately it was concerned about the long-term implications of the regulation - especially for local Internet entrepreneurs who it said now faced greater uncertainty and legal risk.

Minister Yaacob, however, told parliament on Monday that his ministry intended to move ahead with the legislation, despite calls from lawmakers to delay its implementation, and dismissed some of the concerns raised.

“The overall law is not meant to force sites to close down by causing them financial difficulties. MDA have already indicated and replied earlier that they will be prepared to exercise flexibility where warranted should a site have genuine difficulties putting up a bond,” he said.

In late May, the Media Development Authority [MDA] said websites that regularly report on Singapore would have to be licensed and listed 10 news sites that would be affected, based on criteria such as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month.

Websites affected by the new licensing regime would have to put up a $39,300 performance bond, as well as take down within 24 hours any story that authorities deemed objectionable.

“Singapore aims to be the future, but this regulation looks a lot like the past,” said Google's Ann Lavin, director of public policy and government affairs, Southeast Asia.

MDA had said the changes would make the rules governing news websites more consistent with those affecting newspapers and other traditional media platforms. It also said there was no change in its content standards, a point reiterated by Yaacob.

Growing sector

The Asia Internet Coalition [AIC] was set up in 2011 by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay to lobby for free and open access to the Internet and promote e-commerce.

The Internet and related industries have become an important sector for Singapore, with revenues last year growing 23 percent to $81 billion. The sector employs more than 144,000 people out of the city-state's 3.2 million workforce, according to government data.

“When you look at other countries in the region, it's hard to see anyone immediately breathing down the neck of Singapore and Hong Kong,” said John Ure, executive director of AIC. “But things can change. Five to 10 years is not a long time.”

Ure said the coalition's members had been unnerved by the announcement coming “out of the blue” at a time when it had been holding discussions with the Singapore government on several Internet-related issues.

The regulations, he said, “muddied the waters” and that “anything that is seen to be a hindrance to the free flow of content and data” was of concern to his members.

Singapore has attracted major Internet companies in part because of its commitment to what it has called a “light touch” when it comes to policing the Web.

Yahoo's popular Singapore news site was the only foreign website among the 10 listed by the MDA, but critics fear the rules could be extended to cover other websites, including those critical of the government.

A Yahoo spokesman said it had no official comment on the regulation, but that the AIC's position was “broadly consistent with ours.”

'Monsters under the bed'

Opposition lawmaker Lina Chiam told parliament there were still many unanswered questions about the new MDA regulations despite recent attempts at clarification.

“The definition of news sites under the regulations, as they stand, is so arbitrary, and can encompass any website posting at least one news-related article in a week,” she said. “That is why Singaporeans continue to believe that the regulations had been crafted to censor blogs, especially those that discuss politics.”

Lobby group Reporters Without Borders, in its latest report, ranked Singapore 149th globally in terms of press freedom, down 14 places from 2012 and below many of its neighbors.

In 2011, the city-state's tiny opposition made big gains against the long-ruling People's Action Party in a parliamentary election, partly by using social media such as Facebook and YouTube to reach voters.

Rights groups have joined local bloggers in criticizing the move. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said that major Internet companies adding their voice should give Singapore serious pause about its approach.

The government, “like a little boy in a dark bedroom, imagines that every bump in the night means there are monsters under the bed ready to pounce on Singapore's much vaunted social stability,” he said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki comments on Singapore's news website restriction, July 8
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki comments on Singapore's news website restriction, July 8i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: anonymous
July 08, 2013 12:03 PM
singapore want to learn china to build monitoring system in cyberworld.
because the leader want to control citizens. but it's not useful working. the singapore citizen couldn't censorship too over because the country need dependent international trade in cyber if banned error happen will impacted data linking with search engine result(if they're banned public dns or others banned some against error address as china)

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid