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Reading “the right thing” under wrong circumstances

By Cheryl Marie Tay And so, as many of us had probably already expected, the MDA’s plan to “regulate” online news sites has come to pass. Today is the day, and it appears there’s not much we can do about it. For all the talk of a “light touch”, as well as all the fuss over the much-hyped National Conversation, the nasty surprise sure hit many journalists like a ton of bricks. But why is there so much apprehension and disapproval from not just journalists and editors but also the rest of the general public? Between the Lines Let’s look at what the new licensing rule entails. Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, said: “Given the evolving landscape, it’s important to give some form of parity between online news sites and traditional mainstream media newspapers and TV broadcasters.” This all sounds well and good — until one assesses exactly what “traditional mainstream media newspapers and TV broadcasters” are in Singapore. We have only one such paper (not counting The New Paper, of course), The Straits Times. We have only one such broadcaster, Channel NewsAsia. There are no other publications or TV stations in the country to compete or compare…

Major websites to protest licensing requirement

MEDIA STATEMENT Thursday, 30 May 2013 Major Online Websites in Singapore to Protest Against Licensing Requirement The Media Development Authority had, on Tuesday, introduced a “licensing framework” that would require “online news sites” to put up a “performance bond” of $50,000 and “comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards”. As part of the community of websites in Singapore that provide sociopolitical news and analysis to Singaporeans, we are concerned about the impact of the newly-introduced requirement on fellow Singaporeans’ ability to receive diverse news information. While the S$50,000 performance bond is a drop in the ocean for a mainstream news outlet with an online presence, it would potentially be beyond the means of volunteer run and personal blogging platforms like ours. Hence, MDA’s claim that the licensing regime is intended to equalize the playing field between online and offline news is incorrect: the regulations will disproportionately affect us. Further, we believe that the introduction of the licensing regime has not gone through the proper and necessary consultation and had been introduced without clear guidance. In a typical public consultation exercise, a government agency will publish a draft…

Gov’t continues to be out of touch

By Andrew Loh On 4 January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent a legal letter of demand to writer and activist Alex Au to remove an article which was allegedly defamatory of Mr Lee. Mr Au was also required to publish an apology, which he complied with. About 3 weeks later, PM Lee reportedly made the following remarks about the Internet, at the Singapore Perspectives 2013 conference held by the Institute of Policy Studies, on 28 January: “You have views going to extremes and when people respond to their views, they may respond in an extreme way, and when people decide to disapprove of something which was inappropriate, the disapproval can also happen in an extreme way. “It’s in the nature of the medium, the way the interactions work and that’s the reason why we think it cannot be completely left by itself.” These set the tone for what transpired subsequently – with various ministers and the Attorney General taking legal action against certain netizens and bloggers the past few months. The series of clampdown actions has now culminated in the set of new regulations announced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on Tuesday. Namely, the new rules stipulate that…

Gov’t reneges on ‘light touch’ promise

Publichouse.sg statement on the MDA ruling: “The new Internet ruling announced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) is symptomatic of a government which continues to be out of touch with the ground. “The new rulings mark the government reneging on its promise of adopting ‘a balanced and light-touch approach’ to the Internet, as the MDA website claims. “In this year’s Freedom of The Press report published by Freedom House, Singapore’s press freedom was rated ‘Not Free’ and was ranked 153rd in the world, tied with Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar. “We feel ashamed on behalf of all Singaporeans that MDA would introduce politically-motivated regulations that will surely put us even lower than these countries in subsequent rankings. “We urge the Government to rethink these new regulations so that Singapore does not continue being a first-world country with third-world freedom for free expression.” Publichouse.sg editorial team…

Cartoonist’s arrest – not just about alleged sedition

By Andrew Loh The news is all over the Internet now – cartoonist Leslie Chew, 37, of Demon-cratic Singapore, arrested for alleged sedition. Since the news broke late on Tuesday night, the number of “likes” on his Facebook page has jumped by about almost 2,000. Apparently, officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were waiting for Leslie at his parents’ house on Friday evening, around 10.30pm. Leslie had just returned from an overseas trip. When I spoke to him on Tuesday afternoon, he told me that initially there were just 3 officers, but the number grew to about 10 or more as they started to look through his things in the house. Eventually, they confiscated his handphone, hard disk, laptop, and asked him to surrender his passport. He was then brought to the police station at Cantonment complex. There, he stayed for the night – in a lock-up, on a hard floor with just a blanket – until about noon the next day. That was when the “interview” took place. Leslie said there was only one investigation officer who spoke to him. The officer, one ASP Alvin Phua, pointed to two cartoons in particular, which are the subject of the…

Cheering bigotry in the House

By Andrew Loh When a hate speech is delivered in the august chambers of Parliament, you know something is not quite right. Yet it did happen. In Singapore. In 2007, during the debate on the issue of Section 377A of the Penal Code. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to that debate recently. So did justice Quentin Loh. Let’s revisit that debate. Law professor Thio Li Ann, then a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), made an admittedly passionate speech against repealing that section in our law books. Unfortunately, Thio did so by also taking “tasteless digs at homosexual sex”, as academic Dr Cherian George put it. “Thio also did a disservice to the majority of God-fearing Singaporeans – we who would like to believe that our faiths are ultimately about compassion, not the hateful, hurtful cheap shots that Thio felt compelled to deliver on our behalf,” Dr George said. “How I wished a theology professor or other religious scholar would have stepped into the debate at that point, to show how it might be possible to express a faith-based objection to homosexuality – minus the hate speech.” What disturbed this writer was not the hate-filled content of Prof Thio’s speech,…

PH Exclusive: Tan Wah Piow – Exile with a cause

By Biddy Low Who is Tan Wah Piow? His is a name riddled with such fearful labels by our state’s government and media – exile, rioter; “Marxist Mastermind.” Yet as I sat with him in our video interview, I perceived none of the shadowy demeanour one might expect from a man of his reputation. Instead, he displayed a candour befitting of a free and fearless spirit. In 1976, Wah Piow, then a young man of 24, escaped to the UK and sought asylum from what he believed was a precarious situation. He had just been released from prison after an 8-month long term. The charges of rioting and illegal assembly were the result of a “frame-up”, he claimed, a plan adopted by the government to make an example of him and subvert a growing interest in social causes among the student body at the university. “We were supposed to be grateful for the economic success, not do the unthinkable,” he explains in our video interview below. The “unthinkable” in this case was criticizing the ruling party for its past wrongs and stepping in to help with social issues, such as workers’ disputes, something which he felt the union was not…