Petition for the immediate withdrawal of the Licensing Regime
DO YOU USE THE INTERNET? TIME TO TAKE ACTION
We, the undersigned, petition the members of the Parliament of the Republic of Singapore and the Minister of Communications and Information Mr Yaacob Ibrahim as follows :
Background and Preamble
On Wednesday, 28 May 2013, the Media Development Authority (MDA) announced that online news sites with more than 50,000 unique viewers from Singapore a month would be asked to put up a S$50,000 performance bond and “comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards” (the “Licensing Regime”). These license guidelines will "apply to all content on the news sites, including readers' comments on the news sites".
The day after, without public consultation or parliamentary approval, the License Regime was gazetted into law as subsidiary legislation to the Broadcasting Act.
The definition of Singapore news in the legislation is so broad that it could apply to everyone and anyone:
“any programme (whether or not the programme is presenter-based and whether or not the programme is provided by a third party) containing any news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language (whether paid or free and whether at regular intervals or otherwise) but does not include any programme produced by or on behalf of the Government”.
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.
GENERAL PETITION FAQS
Don’t sign blind! Before signing this petition, make sure you’re fully aware of what the Licensing Regime is about and why opposing it matters so much. Know your rights, or they’ll get taken away from you without you knowing.
What is the Media Development Authority (MDA)?
The MDA is a statutory body under the Ministry of Communications and Information staffed with unelected bureaucrats.
What is the Constitution about and why does it matter so much?
The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land, to which all other laws are inferior. Under the section titled “Fundamental Liberties”, you are guaranteed the right (with some qualifications) to equality, life, liberty, freedom of speech, association, religion and movement and freedom from slavery and forced labour.
The Licensing Regime potentially implicates your right to freedom of speech.
Ok, so what is this free speech protection about and what does that have to do with the Licensing Regime?
Article 14 of the Constitution protects “freedom of speech, assembly and association” and allows Parliament to restrict those freedoms only if it is necessary and expedient in very limited circumstances, such as the interests of the security of Singapore, maintaining diplomatic relations and public order or morality.
The Licensing Regime has essentially allowed the MDA, an unelected statutory body, to sneakily encroach on your constitutional protections without having to go through Parliament.
While it could be argued that they might technically be empowered to do so under another piece of legislation (the Broadcasting Act), doesn’t it offend your sense of basic fair play that clever regulatory games can trump your constitutional rights?
Why is free speech so important? Isn’t it an abstract concept only theorists and liberals think about?
Your right to express yourself is a foundational right. If your ability to speak up online is curtailed, that’s one less channel to express your dissatisfaction with bread and butter issues like the cost of living or public transport fare increases.
In the last few years, pressure from online backlash has led to results: the government has re-calibrated its foreign labour policy, the CEO of SMRT transit stepped down in December 2011 after an online outcry, and the Government has made amendments to Singapore’s Mandatory Death Penalty after many years of digging in its heels.
Ok, now I’m interested. What can I do about it?
First, sign the petition.
Second, turn up at Hong Lim Park on 8 June 2013 (Facebook event page) to let the Government know you care.
What are the chances the Government will reverse their position?
Expect the worst but hope for the best.
Sitting down and theorizing about whether it will be different this time isn’t the solution: if you don’t take action now, there might not be a “next time” for you to mull over.
PERSON SPECIFIC FAQS
I’m just a regular internet busybody, I don’t run a mega website that’s potentially on the endangered list. Why should I care?
You’ll have less to kaypoh about if these regulations start biting on the websites you surf. Plus, the legislation applies to comments left by anyone on the licensed sites, so that could potentially be anyone, even you.
I’m a celebrity blogger who blogs about hair products and ponies, why should I care?
Sorry to break it to you, but if you have more than 50,000 unique views a day, you better have $50k to pay. Blogging about hair products and ponies could be interpreted to fall under “any other aspect of Singapore” in the MDA’s definition of Singapore news.
Even though MDA said that blogs do not fall under the licensing scheme, this is not reflected in the wording of the legislation. It leaves the door open for blogs or any other site to be forced to license in the future without any change in the law.
I’m a pro-PAP blogger, and am happy that anti-PAP websites now have to live under a cloud of fear.
Your joy could be short lived.
Elections come around every 5 years, and there’s no guarantee that the PAP is going to be in power forever.
One day, you might live under an opposition government, who could very well use these press laws against you.
Remember, the PAP was once part of the opposition too…
I’m a mainstream media journalist, should I care?
Journalists in the mainstream media have long worked under the control of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA). If you have ever experienced how editorial control stemming from the NPPA chafes at your journalistic sensibilities, why would you desire that potentially any expression online to be subject to NPPA-like controls?
Put your notebook aside and join us at Hong Lim.
Additional online resources about the Licensing Regime
Don’t just hear it from us, find out what everyone’s saying about the Licensing Regime:
Publichouse: Gov't reneges on 'light touch' promise
The Online Citizen: TOC’s statement on MDA licensing of online news sites
Wall Street Journal: Singapore Tightens Grip on Internet News Sites
The Breakfast Network: Expressed, Depressed, Repressed
Publichouse: Gov't continues to be out of touch
Simisai Also License: http://simisaialsolicence.tumblr.com/
Mr Brown: MDA displays its light touch once again
NSP, National Solidarity Party Press Statement: NSP: New Internet Media Regulation a Step Backwards
CPJ, Committee to Protect Journalists: Singapore imposes licensing fees on news websites
Yawning Bread: Parity’s a good idea
Sharanjit Leyl, BBC: New regulations hit Singapore's online press
Kirsten Han, #spuddings: MDA's licensing regime and me (and you)
Choo Zheng Xi, The Online Citizen: MDA's belated "assurances": Don't let your guard down
A Yummy Slice of Life: To hell with thinking
Mr. Brown: Yaacob wants you to read the "right" things
Al Jazeera: Singapore: Regulation or censorship?
Asia Sentinel: Behind Singapore's Internet Crackdown
Eileen Yu, ZDnet: Singapore's online licensing rule a sign of more to come
Jeannette Chong: My thoughts on the new MDA licensing regime
SDP, Singapore Democratic Party : Democrats regret Govt's move to license news websites
Kry8 films : MDA's lovely policy. What if?
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