MDA to regulate online news sites with significant reach

From June 1, websites that report Singapore news and have significant reach will require individual licences from Media Development Authority (MDA) to operate.

Under the new licensing framework announced today, online news sites will be individually licensed if they report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months. When MDA has assessed that a site has met the criteria to be individually licensed, MDA will issue a formal notification and work with the site to move it to the new licensing framework.

Once an online news site is deemed by MDA to have met the criteria, it will be required to put up a performance bond of $50,000 like all other individually-licensed broadcasters. According to MDA, the new Licence provides greater clarity on prevailing requirements within the Class Licence and Internet Code of Practice. The Licence makes it clear that online news sites are expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards like content that is “against public interest, public order, public security, national harmony, public morality”.

Currently, there are 10 news sites that are deemed by MDA to have met the criteria. The 10 sites are: Asiaone.com, Businesstimes.com.sg, Channelnewsasia.com, Omy.sg, Sg.news.yahoo.com, Stomp.com.sg, Straitstimes.com, Tnp.sg, Todayonline.com, Zaobao.com

Currently, all the sites that are affected by this new licensing framework are from SPH, MediaCorp and Yahoo. But nothing is stopping MDA from adding sites like TheOnlineCitizen, Publichouse, Yawning Bread or any blogger with significant reach. 50k unique IP address per month isn’t difficult to reach. I’m worried that this will further restrict the freedom of speech in Singapore.

This whole thing seems like a badly written framework that is implemented without consulting the public. And the new licensing framework leave many questions unanswered.

1) What if a site is deemed by MDA to have met the criteria but couldn’t pay the $50,000 bond? Does that mean the site need to be shut down or stop reporting Singapore news?

2) What if a news website refuse to comply? What are the penalties? Will these sites be blocked by local ISP?

3) What about websites/blogs hosted on server outside Singapore? Can MDA regulate these sites?

4) What about Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account with more than 50,000 reach? Will these be regulated?

5) What about foreign news sites like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera etc etc? I’m pretty sure some of them meets the criteria too. What if they refuse to pay the $50,000 bond?

6) And most importantly, what is MDA’s definition of content that is “against public interest, public order, public security, national harmony, public morality”?

Update: According to Reuters, MDA said that the new regulation did not apply to blogs, though adding: “If they take on the nature of news sites, we will take a closer look and evaluate them accordingly”.

6 Responses to 'MDA to regulate online news sites with significant reach'

  1. Anon says:

    9 of the 10 sites listed by MDA to have met their criteria for licensing are also the contributors for our incredible ranking in the Press Freedom Index.

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