New rules 'will make netizens more cynical'

Singapore is probably the first and only democratic country to require certain websites to post a significant monetary bond before they can continue publishing, says former NMP and online commentator Siew Kum Hong.

Ten news sites that provide regular reports on Singapore and have significant reach will need individual licences from today, as regulators bid to align regulations for online news platforms with those for print and broadcast.

The Media Development Authority stressed that the move, announced on Tuesday, was not to clamp down on Internet freedom. But many in the online fraternity interpreted it as a way to rein them in. The new licence requires holders to take down content that breaches certain standards within 24 hours of being notified. This could be something that goes against good taste, offends religious sensitivities, or relates to vice.

Communications professor and director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre Ang Peng Hwa and Siew Kum Hong, a former Nominated MP and regular online commentator, speak to Leonard Lim and Tessa Wong.

What do you make of the new licensing framework that the Media Development Authority announced this week, and its impact on the media landscape?

This is a significant retreat from the "light touch" approach to Internet censorship that the Singapore Government has espoused since the late 1990s.

Not only was Singapore the first and only country in the world to regulate a socio-political community blog in the same way it regulates political parties (that is, gazetting The Online Citizen as a "political association"), it is now also probably the first and only democratic country in the world to require websites, that meet certain requirements, to post a significant monetary bond before they can continue publishing.

Do you see the new regulations as having an impact on online discourse and readers' comments?

Yes, but not in the way the regulators would have intended. It will make people more cynical about the PAP Government. As for readers' comments, this regulation will probably have minimal effect on their behaviour.

Other factors - such as anonymity or the lack thereof - will continue to have a much greater effect on what comments get posted.

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