Singapore's Websites Call for Saturday Protest
More than 160 Singaporean websites are calling for concerned citizens to assemble Saturday in Hong Lim Park, the site of the city's Speaker's Corner, to protest stringent new licensing requirements imposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on bloggers and other websites last week.
The bloggers closed down their sites Thursday for 24 hours to protest implementation of the new laws.
The bloggers have launched a campaign using the Twitter hashtag #FreeMyInternet to spread the word about the campaign. Online commentators have expressed concern over the breadth of the definition of "online news sites," warning that it could sweep in blogs that discuss a wide range of issues, and websites that enable users to discuss online content.
The new regulations, promulgated at the behest of Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, have been condemned internationally by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. Today the New York-based Human Rights Watch joined in condemning the regulations, saying that "The Singaporean government should withdraw an onerous new licensing requirement for online news sites. The new rules will further discourage independent commentary and reporting on the Internet."
The Singapore government usually doesn't back away from its implementation of regulations, no matter how stiff the protest.
"Singapore's new licensing requirement casts a chill over the city-state's robust and free-wheeling online communities, and will clearly limit Singaporeans' access to independent media," said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Websites will be forced into the role of private censors on behalf of the government."
Singapore's mainstream media have long been cowed into submission by the government through libel lawsuits, contempt of court cases and outright intimidation - the latter according to a book, "OB Markers: My Straits Times Story, written by Cheong Yip Seng, the former editor in chief of Singapore Press Holdings, the parent company of the broadsheet daily Straits Times.
Although the Media Development Authority said the new law was only meant to bring Internet sites into compliance with existing press regulations, Singapore's tame courts have been used to bludgeon the press into not reporting at all on the country. The Internet sites can be expected to face the same fate.
Many international news outlets including the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review and AsiaWeek, Time Magazine and others have been sued successfully by the family of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Lee Kuan Yew. All have reacted by shying away from critical reporting on the country.
According to the Human Rights Watch report: "In response to criticism, the Media Development Authority clarified on its Facebook page on May 31 that, ?An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting.' However, in a separate statement, the Authority undermined this claim by asserting that, "If they [blogs] take on the nature of news sites, we will take a closer look and evaluate them accordingly."
The Media Development Authority also asserted that the framework is "not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites" and that it will only step in "when complaints are raised to [their] attention, and [they] assess that the content is in breach of the content guidelines and merits action by the website owner."
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists in Singapore have also criticized media censorship laws because they create a skewed portrayal of LGBT individuals in local, mainstream media," Human Rights Watch said. "Given that Singapore still criminalizes male same-sex relations, instituting a 24-hour takedown requirement for "material that advocates homosexuality or lesbianism" on popular websites will only exacerbate the problem, Human Rights Watch said.
"Singapore is placing its status as a world-class financial center at clear risk by extending its record of draconian media censorship to the digital world," Human Rights Watch's Wong said. "The blogging community is of the opinion that such regulations will limit public discourse and undermine Singapore's civil liberties, and calls for the removal of such regulations which are completely incompatible with First World standards."
Websites and Blogs participating in the Blackout on 6 June 2013 [Link]: