MDA’S SECOND EMAIL RESPONSE TO BLOGGER AT HEARTTRUTHS
Dear Mr Ngerng,
Thank you for your feedback.
We would like to reiterate and elaborate on our earlier point that the content standards for these news sites remains the same even under the new licensing framework. The existing Class Licence requires Internet Content Providers to ensure that content on their sites do not go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency. These are broad terms that are open to interpretation in terms of the range of possible violations. While they may be appropriate for the Class Licence because of the diverse range of content on the Internet, we feel that more clarity should be given where news sites are concerned because their content is used by others to make informed decisions, or to form judgements on matters of national interest.
For example, the licence provides more clarity on what it means for news sites to offer information in a way that threatens “public order” with specific examples:
- If the content undermines public confidence in the law and its enforcement in Singapore.
- If the sites present information, events or depictions in a manner likely to mislead and cause mass panic to the public.
- If the content contains extremist or anarchic messages, such as advocating or promoting the use of violence.
As for content that threatens “national harmony”, the guidelines are closely tied with race and religion, given the importance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore:
- Content that incites or is likely to incite intolerance or misunderstanding among the main racial and religious groups in Singapore.
- Content that denigrates or is likely to offend the sensitivities of any racial or religious group.
- Content that promotes or justifies hatred and enmity against other racial and religious groups.
Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, as long as the assessments are well-intentioned, and not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention to mislead the public.
We would like to stress therefore that there is no attempt to influence the editorial slant of these news sites, as the content on these news sites continue to be guided by the same content standards as when they were class-licensed.
Given that there is no change in the standards, our judicious record of issuing take-down notices continues to be relevant. Since the class license scheme came into effect in 1996, there has only been one take-down notice for religiously-offensive content (i.e. the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video), and the other 23 instances were mainly for pornographic content and advertisements soliciting for sex or sex chats which arose from public complaints.
Bearing in mind the speed at which Internet content can be published and disseminated, we are of the opinion that online news sites with a significant reach (and hence impact on Singaporeans) do not carry prohibited content and if they do, to take down such content as soon as possible. In this regard, our assessment is that a site which has a reach of over 50,000 monthly unique IP addresses on average for two months is considered to have significant reach, and therefore should be individually licensed to place a stronger onus on the individual licensee operating that website to report responsibly. We would also like to add that we use a combination of traffic monitoring tools and perception-based surveys; nonetheless, in respect of the commercial sensitivity of websites which may not wish to reveal their statistics, we hope you will understand that we are unable to provide such info to the public.
We would like to share that the move to individually license news sites is not a fundamental shift in policy approach, but rather a refinement of the Class Licensing scheme which was also introduced via subsidiary legislation in 1996. Where there is a new policy direction, such as the upcoming amendment in the Broadcasting Act, the Government will consult the public for its views before formulating its proposals.
Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.
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Media Development Authority