I disagree with Mr Devadas Krishnadas’ view that the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) move to require certain websites to be licensed is progressive (“Progressive move to raise standards”; last Friday).

As I had written earlier in the year (“Let social media follow its natural, chaotic course”; Forum Online, Jan 14), it is apparent that the Government has yet to come to grips with what the Internet represents – openness and freedom of expression for individuals with independent opinions.

To hold websites to the same standards governing regulated traditional media is regressive and futile.

Mr Krishnadas claims that news reporting (online or in print) is serious business. This is only partly true.

Most websites that report or comment on local news are not run by “accredited” professionals and do not purport to report the news in the serious manner practised by traditional media.

So it is unreasonable to hold them to the same standards laid down for traditional media.

In fact, many socio-political sites do not report the news but provide commentaries on the hot topics of the day. To potentially subject them to licensing is regressive as it restricts their freedom of expression – something that is important in a knowledge-based society that values creativity and independent thought.

Mr Krishnadas also states that the public today prefers plurality rather than an authority of sources, and the new rules may compel some websites to consolidate.

This “consolidation” would be a worrisome trend and hints at stifling diverse and independent views, which goes against the grain of the Government’s consultative approach, as exemplified in Our Singapore Conversation and other mechanisms.

The Internet cannot and should not be regulated. Most Singaporeans are well-educated and able to differentiate between credible and groundless reporting. And if there is evidence that they are unable to do so, then we need to work on making them more discerning.

Online content can be seen as a grassroots-based feedback mechanism for the Government. If these views were to be curtailed, then a good way of gauging the ground sentiment would be lost.


Vincent Tan Yan Fu (Dr)

* Letter first appeared on ST Forum (4 Jun)