Coalition of internet giants 'very concerned' over new MDA regulations

The five Internet giants that make up the AIC: Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo! and Salesforce. (Images from Wikimedia Commons)

A group of five multi-national Internet giants have expressed their collective concern over the recent Media Development Authority (MDA) individual class licensing regime for news websites.

Called the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC), the group — consisting of eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo! — wrote a letter to Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in mid-June expressing their views on the new licensing framework, which so far affects a news site operated by Yahoo! Singapore.

"The (AIC) strongly believes in the potential of Internet-enabled communications to benefit society, the economy and citizens," the coalition's executive director John Ure wrote. "However, this new regulation — and the regulatory trend that this may be indicative of — could unintentionally hamper Singapore's ability to continue to drive innovation, develop key industries in the technology space and attract investment in this key sector."

"Unwarranted" move

Ure also wrote that the new regime "surprised" the companies, noting that the scope and manner in which the regulation was introduced has "negatively impacted Singapore's global image as an open and business-friendly country". He also added that the group hopes to meet government representatives to share its feedback on the framework.

"We view that it is unwarranted and excessive for the government to extend the class-licensing framework to individually license (identified) online news sites in order to ensure regulatory parity," he continued. "This is an additional layer of regulation, which has also introduced significant business uncertainty for the industry."

Other concerns expressed in the letter echo those previously made — the language of the regulation being too broad, the arbitrariness of the selection and identification of websites to be licensed, and the regressiveness of the conditions stated, which the group argues is untenable in practice.

Ure also noted that the case for the need to post a "performance bond" is also unclear, as it "sends a very strong wrong message to the Internet community in and beyond Singapore that these changes could presage a more restrictive attitude to the Internet".

"Light touch"

The AIC published its letter on its website on the day it was sent, and the MCI responded to it on Tuesday evening.

According to a spokesperson for the ministry, the MCI responded that Singapore's "light touch approach" in regulating the Internet "has not changed" with the individual licensing regime.

Reiterating that the individual licensing scheme is in place to "ensure greater parity for news providers across traditional and online media platforms", the spokesperson said the ministry explained that the content standards serve to address only "core content concerns", and that they protect "fundamentals most important to the Singapore society".

The ministry also stressed that its regulator will exercise "some flexibility where necessary", should a site have difficulty putting up the $50,000 performance bond, with the spokesperson noting that representatives from both AIC and MDA had met in early June to discuss the new framework.

"We also invited AIC to participate when MDA embarks on public consultation on the amendments to the Broadcasting Act next year," the spokesperson added.

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