On 10 December, Dr Cherian George wrote an article titled ‘Online freedom: time to revise the Singapore report card’. Published on his website Freedom from the Press, Dr George argued that the recent closure of online news website Breakfast Network marked an end to 17 years of “light touch” regulation. He said: “Blogs could be punished if what they published broke the law – but they were never expected to persuade regulators that they deserved the right to publish before they were allowed to do so.”
George added: “Through the government’s clumsy handling of one site that didn’t even pose a serious threat, Singapore has now stumbled into the company of authoritarian regimes that are prepared to outlaw politically inconvenient blogs. What the latest move portends for internet freedom in Singapore is still unclear.”
Four days later, the Media Development Authority replied. “You characterise the registration process as an exercise for the Breakfast Network to “persuade regulators they deserve the right to publish before they are allowed to do so”. This is an “astounding” description, it said. The registration merely requires the provision of names of persons involved in the provision, management and/or operation of the Breakfast Network, and an undertaking by them not to receive foreign funding.”
The MDA also addressed allegations that the registration process was “unnecessarily onerous”. “The Breakfast Network shut down because its editor and owner chose not to register, as required by MDA. Ms [Bertha] Henson claimed the requirements were onerous, citing the need to register volunteer contributors to her site. MDA issued a statement on 13 Dec 2013, refuting her claim. At no point was Ms Henson told that contributors needed to also register. She was only told that editors, including pro bono editors, had to register.”
Current regulations require the naming of people involved in the “provision, management and/or operation” of a website, and an undertaking to avoid receiving foreign funding.
The full article and MDA’s response can be found here.