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Singaporean sites protest 'licence to print news' laws

Sites forced to stump up $SGD50k and agree to state censorship

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Over 130 Singaporean web sites blacked out their home pages yesterday in protest at new government licensing regulations which critics claim will lead to greater online censorship in the city-state.

The participating web sites and blogs, which some sources have put as high as 150, also linked to a specially created protest organisation, #FreeMyInternet, which is holding a rally in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park on Saturday afternoon.

The group has drawn up an online petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Licensing Regime, which has managed nearly 3,800 signatures so far.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority announced last week that it was forcing online news sites to adhere to its licensing rules whereby they must 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”.

Given that the Singaporean government already owns, either directly or indirectly, most traditional media, the new measures are thought to be an attempt to also bring to heel foreign news and other online sites which many locals read for unbiased news, including the local version of Yahoo News.

The petitioners released the following “call for action”:

The width of the Licensing Regime and the unseemly haste with which it was gazetted effectively allowed an unelected regulatory authority to undermine our right to freedom of speech, which is the protected right of all Singaporeans under Article 14 of our Constitution.

We, the undersigned citizens of Singapore, petition for the immediate withdrawal of the Licensing Regime, and for the Ministry of Communication and Information to undertake a complete review of all media regulation in Singapore, with the aim of ensuring that the constitutional rights of Singaporeans are not violated.

In addition, some 72 per cent of respondents to a poll on local site TR Emeritus said they thought the new rules, brought in on June 1, would end up limiting online news content.

The MDA has posted a response to concerns on its Facebook page, claiming the framework is “not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites”. It adds that takedown requests are not common and the regulations will not apply to personal websites or blogs.

Singapore’s netizens are right to be a little nervous, however, given the country lies in 149th place on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2013, between Iraq and Russia and the lowest of all "developed" nations. ®

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