24 Jun 2006

ST Interview on Internet Regulations in Singapore

To: Elgin Toh MY
Date: Jun 12, 2006 6:55 PM

1. We are in the 10th year of Internet regulation in Singapore. How do you think the regulation has evolved during this time, both in theory and in practice ( i.e. enforcement)?

As I have only been engaged with Singapore and in particular the Singaporean internet scene since 1999 I can not account for the years I was not engaged with it. I am however aware of the 'back ground' story of how Singapore became one of the most connected cities in the world and the various government initiatives that have been implemented in order to facilitate the level of connection that Singapore has.

The story of the original sintercom is a good point to view how the initial regulations were enforced. The site had become rather popular in the run up to the previous elections and this resulted in the owner of the site being approached and encouraged to register the site as a political site. Sites like the Think Centre had also been approached in the past to register. The Think Centre registered, however the owner of sintercom felt that the pressure was a little too much and decided to close down what was an extremely important social and political discussion space.

Today the theory or the proclamations are the same, namely that political blogs need to register with the MDA. The laws are still in place, however the will to enforce them appears to be lacking. The pro-active stance of the authorities of the 1990's has become re-active. The recent jailing of 'racist' bloggers after complaints from blog readers to the police is a case in point of this new approach.

2. How have internet practitioners like yourself adjusted to the evolving regulations and what has this meant for political discussion?

Speaking for myself, I will openly admit that I very rarely consider the 'regulations' in my day to day activities on line. The idea that the 'regulators' make a declaration and then everyone online shifts their behaviour to meet the new regulations is a rather one sided view of the process that is at work in the new online media. The recent declaration regarding political pod casting, video casting and political blogging is a good example.

Before the elections as most will remember an announcement was made regarding the new media and certain 'political advertising' that was deemed out of bounds. Many bloggers responded in a rather fearful manner. Some closed their sites but the majority appeared to carry on as normal, after all the current internet users tend to have a greater level of knowledge and many appear anonymous online. Those only really affected by the 'ban' was the Singapore Democrat Party leading to speculation that the ban was only really intended to further curtail their voice in the new media thereby ensuring the dominant voice to be that of the Peoples Action Party.

The SDP complied but a quick look at the activity of individual and group bloggers shows this did not stop their engagement with the political debate from reaching the online public.
Whether those that make the regulations will admit it or not, they are in a process of negotiation with online producers not a position of authority where they are 'managing us'. Laws and regulations can and are announced on a regular basis but if the infrastructure and the will to enforce them is absent they appear to be idle threats. The very nature of the internet is questioning the old power structure whereby those in a dominant position were able to dominate the media, dominate the cultural production - this position is no longer tenable.

In terms of political discussion I feel that the most pertinent issue is 'who controls the internet', does the Singaporean state exert its sovereignty over the 'virtual world'? Or are the people of Singapore willing to claim their voice, and speak truth onto those in power. The political discussion that is ongoing is the battle for this new media.

3. Given the evolving regulations, what is the current role of the Internet in Singapore vis-a-vis the traditional media especially in the context of political discussion?

The current role or possible niche of the internet in Singapore is that the national media or main stream media is ranked 140 th on the Reporters Without Borders index out of 167 countries for media freedom. If taken seriously this indicates that there is very little political discussion in the traditional media in Singapore.

Other countries are beginning to take notice, with large newspapers starting to accommodate the new media. Their main concerns are a drop in revenue as more and more 20-something's and younger go online to get information. They are also concerned with the drop in revenue as advertisers are shifting towards online outlets instead of the traditional media.

With particular reference to political discussion I get the sense that by internet users being able to go online and get involved in online petitions, discussion groups, sending letters or joining local and international Non-Governmental Organisations there is slow political awakening occurring. Politics has for a long time been regarded as a 'risky' activity dare I say it almost criminal. As more take part on line and there are no repercussions then people might get a little braver and more active and attend a forum or sign a petition. This is of course pure speculation.

4. Some are philosophically against the regulation of the Internet at all. What are your views?

As I am not one to take an absolutist position on most arguments I feel that the only appropriate response is to look at the question from a practical or pragmatic position. The current situation in Singapore is that very few sites are blocked. Those that are tend to be pornographic in nature. However anyone with the knowledge of how to send an email can get around these blocks with the use of proxy servers and anonymous email addresses. There are of course also issues of copyright and the most distasteful of all are adults luring children to meet off line.

Yes children need to be protected – protected by their parents and those charged with their care at school etc. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all are just as salient as protection of the vulnerable and minorities.

For financial transactions to be secure regulation of the internet is necessary , the copyright of individuals work protected etc. Not at the expense of being used as a smoke screen for authoritarian governments to maintain their grip on the minds of the people. Not at the expense of stunting culture and creativity.

If a handful of companies and government organisations control access to the new media, and they decide which political views get aired and which issues are up for discussion this week, you might like the views and opinions. However a country that allows a few to decide the issues that everyone else gets to hear about is unacceptable.

5. The Government promises a lighter touch for the future of Internet regulation. Are you in favour of this? Does this make regulation here more aligned to regulation in other countries? How do you think the lighter touch is going to work, in practical terms?

Promises can be broken, what is needed is a clear declaration and a dismantling of certain internet and election advertising legislation in regards to online political discussion, then and only then is such an announcement to be welcomed.

The government has promised a lighter touch not out of an ideological love of freedom of speech or expression but as a pragmatic response to an attempt to control the new media during the 2006 election that failed. It is the same old approach of trial and error. If something doesn't work try something different.

A more important question is why the government used the regulations in order to demand that the SDP remove pod casts from their site during the recent election.

The future of the internet will not be decided by the Singaporean government alone. They need to acknowledge that they are actively in a process of negotiation with their own net savvy citizens.


Anonymous said...


Evil deed of Chinese Communist Party to maintain its one party political power – including Organ Harvesting from LIVING Falun Gong practitioners in Labour Camp in China



To download ‘9 ping’ 《九评共产党》- (writings of evil Chinese Communist party) http://www.epochtimes.com/gb/4/12/13/n746020.htm (Source: 9ping.com)

or tune in to 106.5 FM (radio) for the reading of 9ping everyday at Singgapore time 3pm and 10pm

Anonymous said...

falungong is everywhere