New MDA licensing scheme becomes fodder for Singapore satire

People are seen surfing the Internet at a cybercafe. Singapore's feisty online community has reacted angrily to an announcement that news websites including one operated by Yahoo! will have to obtain licences subjecting them to rules governing traditional media

While many people reacted with anger to the news that Singapore would regulate online news sites, including Yahoo! Singapore’s, some took the opportunity to make fun of the move.

A Tumblr blog called “Simisai (whatever s**t) Also Licence” was put up on Wednesday to provide a spurious list of other activities that would require a licence.

Here are some items on the list:

If you light more than 50 joss sticks a month, you are required to apply for an Incense Licence

Roads that flood more than once in 50 years are required to apply for a Freak Flood Licence

Ministers who touch more than 500 bananas are required to apply for a Touch My Banana Licence

Each line was paired with a photo to add another touch of humour.

Meanwhile, Singapore website New Nation had three satirical pieces.

In one article, it mocked a website owned by local telecommunications giant SingTel for failing to make it to the list of 10 online news sites that will be subject to the new licensing requirements of the Media Development Authority.

In another, it drew a link to the popularity of a “news” portal by City Harvest Church to the new scheme, and earlier on Thursday it wrote about how Singapore authorities were “dropping their trusting ways – for more of their thrusting ways”.

More serious note

Overall, however, the Singapore government’s move to tighten regulation of online news sites drew concern from many quarters.

Social and political blogger Lee Kin Mun aka mrbrown was quoted by AP as saying, “This is censorship, plain and simple”.

In a statement, socio-political website noted that the new rulings “mark the government reneging on its promise of adopting 'a balanced and light-touch approach' to the Internet, as the MDA website claims”.

Opposition parties also criticised the MDA’s move.

“This is a regressive step which will have the effect of impeding the free flow of information and the development of a free and pluralistic media in Singapore,” said SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan.

The National Solidarity Party said the “spirit and conditions” of the scheme would have a “regressive effect on the development of the local media industry and the quality of journalism at large in our country”.

Under the new licensing regime, online news sites that have significant reach and report regularly on Singapore would need to obtain individual licenses from 1 June. The MDA has identified 10 sites that would qualify and all except Yahoo! Singapore’s news site are run by the two biggest local media groups, Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp.

Under such a licence, the ten sites would be expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards.

The MDA said the change would place the news sites "on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms".