COMMENT: #FreeMyInternet – Why the big hoo-ha?

SingaporeScene

COMMENT

It’s been five crazy days. Most of the bloggers I know have already weighed in on the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) requirement for Singaporean news sites with large followings to apply for licenses to operate. Many of us have joined together to launch a campaign – #FreeMyInternet – against the move.

For those who need to catch up on developments (as well as read responses from members of Singapore's online community), I've put together a Storify.

Some might wonder why we’re creating such a hullabaloo. After all, the MDA has already clarified on their Facebook page that “individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting” and will therefore not be subjected to licensing requirements.

But what about community blogs such as The Online Citizen or publichouse.sg? How long will the uncertainty be dangled over them?

And what about the vagueness encapsulated by the catch-all definition of ‘news’?

A “Singapore news programme” is 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 interval or otherwise) but does not include any programme produced by or on behalf of the Government.

As long as this broad definition is in place, the MDA has the latitude to interpret (or “evaluate”) things however they want and issue licensing notifications as they see fit. They would have the legal right to do it, despite promises made on a Facebook page.

Should we wait and see if they do before we protest?

At the end of the day it all comes down to trust. How much do we really trust the MDA to act in good faith, to not use this new regulation to stifle expression and criticism? When Dr Yaacob Ibrahim says that the government wants Singaporeans to “read the ‘right thing’”, how much do we believe that his idea of the ‘right thing’ matches ours?

When the government has already used take-down letters and defamation threats to control what is being said online, are we really comfortable with allowing such a licensing framework to remain on the books on the basis of trust?

I’m not prepared to wait and see if the MDA will renege on the promise it made on Facebook. In fact, I don’t even believe this licensing regime should exist, regardless of whether the MDA eventually licenses community and citizen blogs or not.

When bad regulations and laws come into place, we should resist them from the get-go, rather than wait for casualties. After all, what’s the point in waiting when we already know they’re bad?

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker, currently a Masters student at Cardiff University. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes.