SINGAPORE: Singaporean authorities said the new licensing regime for local news sites with extensive reach will not limit public discourse.
Communications and Information Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim reiterated that websites can continue as per normal, as they are subjected to the same content standards as before.
He also highlighted that the government has exercised restraint in issuing take-down orders over the past two decades.
Concern from the online community is that the new rules will stifle freedom of speech on the internet.
The ministry said only 10 sites have to be licensed. The sites are mainly owned by the mainstream media.
They are already subjected to content standards under the Class Licensing regime and Internet Code of Conduct, which all websites in Singapore must adhere to.
The new rules are meant to address the changing media landscape -- as more people are going online to consume news, and technology is also evolving.
The ministry said the strategy is to have a framework in place to meet the changing landscape.
Dr Yaacob said: "So the 10 sites we have licensed, we really have nothing, no problem with them altogether, but we know that this is the emergence of a new media landscape.
"And therefore it's important for us to put a regulatory framework which is as light as possible to ensure that those sites coming on board, that report on Singapore news, have to conform to certain minimum standards as far as we are concerned, and we think it's not as onerous as what's been made up by some people online."
Licensed sites must comply with any take-down notice within 24 hours if they breach content guidelines, such as being religiously insensitive or having content which promotes violence.
Dr Yaacob said: "Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, so long as they are not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention of misleading the public."
The new rules also do not apply to blog sites or online commentaries.
The government pointed to its track record when applying the law. It said it has been exercising restraint when it comes to issuing take-down notices.
Since 1996, there was one instance where a video deemed to be racially and religiously insensitive was asked to be taken down. Between 1996 and 2011, there were 23 other similar instances when take-down notices were issued. Their contents were deemed to be sexual in nature, and the complaints came from the public, the government said.
"I think the best way for people to see, after the licences are issued, is whether the activists are indeed limited in their public discourse,” said Dr Yaacob.
"I expect that the sites will continue to operate as before. In fact, I hope that the activists who are today making this far-fetched claim will be honest enough to admit it when the time comes," he added.
Dr Yaacob stressed that the rules are not an attempt to clamp down on anybody, but he acknowledged that public communication could have been done better.
He said: "At the end of the day, anything could have been done better, but I want the online community to understand this is not an attempt to clamp down on anybody. It's really to ensure that those in the business of reporting news do so responsibly."
He added there are also plans to amend the Broadcasting Act to cover overseas broadcasters which target Singaporeans. Industry players will be consulted on this.
"This will include online news sites which may not be operating in Singapore, but regularly report on Singapore news and are targeted at a Singapore audience. This has become more imperative with technological advances increasingly blurring the divide between local and foreign online news providers," said Dr Yaacob. - CNA/jc/xq
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The government claims that these regulations are not 'new' per se but are in fact another layer of enforcement to existing ones. In other words, what they mean is that now they get to threaten online news sites with an even bigger penalty should they not let us Singaporeans read 'the right things'. Please Mr. Government, don't insult the intelligence of your citizens. I'm sure the common people are able to think for themselves what the 'right things' are, and should there be any future problems that arise through the online news media, I'm sure the citizens will be the first to report any wrongdoings.
RIP freedom of information in Singapore.
P.S. Facebook might be next to be shot with an arrow.
As long as laws are in place they can be used to the hilt at any time in the future with impunity notwithstanding whatever is stated herein for public consumption which is not integral to the laws.
The question that can be asked now and will be asked at anytime in the future is why have the laws in place if they are not to be used?