On July 3, 2013, I published an exclusive in Lianhe Zaobao on how the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) has written to Singapore’s government, expressing concerns about a new ruling requiring news websites of a certain reach to first seek licensing from the government before it can start operations.
The coalition counts four Internet giants – Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and eBay – as its members.
The story quickly was picked up by Bloomberg, Reuters, Yahoo! News and several other Singaporean websites the same day after Zaobao hit newsstands. Major newspapers also carried the story the next day. It also provoked a debate at a parliament seating a few days later.
The story even later caught the attention of the American State Department. On July 8, at a daily press briefing, a spokesperson expressed the Department’s concerns on the new ruling, saying that Singapore should “… ensure that freedom of expression is protected in accordance with its international obligations and commitments”.
A good summary of my article can be found here.
Translated version of the article, and its original in Mandarin Chinese:
Four Internet giants criticise news website regulations; Singapore Government reiterates stance on introduction of regulations
Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and eBay have raised their concerns about Singapore’s latest move to tighten regulation of news websites, criticising the new legislation as one which has already “negatively impacted Singapore’s global image as an open and business-friendly country”.
Singapore’s Communications and Information Ministry, in a response released to the companies yesterday, reiterated its stance on introducing these measures. The ministry also invited these companies to provide their views on upcoming changes to the Broadcasting Act.
Displeasure against this new legislation in the city-state has largely been voiced by Singaporean bloggers, netizens and media companies. These four Internet giants’ concerns lend a new dimension to debate about this legislation, which came into effect June 1.
Lianhe Zaobao understands that lobby group Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), representing these four Internet companies, penned a letter on June 14, expressing its concerns to Communications and Information Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.
Dr John Ure, AIC’s executive director, writes in the letter that “this new regulation – and the regulatory trend that this may be indicative of – could unintentionally hamper Singapore’s ability to continue to drive innovation, develop key industries in the technology space and attract investment in this key sector. We also believe that the scope of the regulation and manner in which it was introduced have negatively impacted Singapore’s global image as an open and business-friendly country.”
Set up in 2011, Hong Kong-based AIC consults governments in the Asia-Pacific region on Internet policies.
A spokesperson for the ministry responded yesterday to Zaobao’s queries. He stated that, in its reply to AIC, also sent yesterday, the ministry reiterated its stance that these regulations were to ensure that news websites were subjected to the same regulatory standards as traditional media.
After the regulations were introduced in June, AIC has been in talks with the Media Development Authority (MDA), the regulator overseeing these regulations, to understand how they work. When asked why did AIC still deem it necessary to express its views to the minister, Dr Ure told Zaobao: “AIC was caught off guard by the MCI Minister’s announcement of new regulations. … It is always AIC’s position that changes of this kind are best done through industry consultation otherwise mistakes can be made.”
AIC, in its letter, explained how these regulations could affect the industry in two ways.
Firstly, it deems the regulation as “vague and broad”. Hence, successful implementation of it might entail curbing innovation, or impede the industry’s development. “These types of uncertainties have a significant chilling effect on innovation and negatively impact Singapore’s ability to attract investments, both of which are critical to the healthy development of the infocomm and media sector in Singapore.”
Secondly, AIC believes that “additional licensing conditions are onerous, regressive and untenable in practice” for the industry. In particular, AIC believes that the requirement for news websites to take down, within 24 hours, any story that authorities deem objectionable is too onerous. It suggests that “… this provision is removed and replaced with a ‘best endeavours’ response within a reasonable timeframe taking into account all of the circumstances.”
AIC also appealed to the Singapore Government to reconsider the necessity of the regulation a year or two after implementation.
The ministry’s spokesperson, in responding to AIC’s views on the 24-hour take-down requirement, said that the ministry has already taken into account on how quickly information can spread online, thus “…is important in the management of false news information that may cause mass panic.”
The spokesperson said the government welcomed AIC’s views on proposed changes to the Broadcasting Act.
Dr Ure told Zaobao last night that he thanked the ministry for its response, and looked forward to continued dialogue with the government on this matter.
Baey Yam Keng, vice chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Communications and Information, said that concerns raised by these Internet companies should not be brushed aside. “These are mainstream Internet companies. If we don’t allay their concerns, it would definitely affect our country’s reputation as a business-friendly hub. But everyone should also realise any effect brought about by these new regulations will need time to materialise, and only then can we see how big of an impact it has on Singapore.”
The Communications and Information Ministry announced earlier that effective June 1, websites which see more than 50,000 unique visitors per month, and carry more than one news story per week, must obtain an individual licence before they can publish.
These licensees would also have to put up a S$50,000 performance bond. Should authorities deem an article objectionable, these licensees would have to take down the said article within 24 hours. Ten websites, including Yahoo’s popular Singapore news site, were required by authorities to be licensed.
The government also plans on updating the Broadcasting Act. It will require foreign media companies with data servers hosted overseas to have to adhere local media regulations should they want to operate in Singapore’s market.
Bloggers and netizens came out strongly against the regulations on news sites. Alan Soon, Yahoo’s Singapore country director, earlier posted a public blog post stating that these regulations were “redundant”. He also mentioned that Yahoo was studying the regulations carefully, and that Yahoo has not decided if it would apply for such a license.
就新闻网站新执照条例 四网络巨头致函部长表担忧 通讯及新闻部回应并重申推行立场
本报了解到，代表四家网络公司的游说团体“亚洲互联网政策组织”（Asia Internet Coalition，简称AIC），上个月14日在获得四家公司的同意后致函雅国，提出对新条例的关注。