SDP asks Google to explain its ‘shocking’ ban of political ads in Singapore

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah smiles during a party walkabout at the Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre on 3 November 2019. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is asking Google to explain its “shocking policy” of banning political advertising in Singapore after the SDP tried to buy advertisements on its platforms.

In a statement on Tuesday night (3 December), the SDP Chairman Paul Tambyah said he had written to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to say that such ads ensure that "Singaporean voters are not deprived of information as they make their choices in the coming election."

Sharing several correspondences between the SDP and the search engine company, Dr Tambyah added, “This is particularly salient as the print and broadcast media are controlled by the ruling party.”

In his correspondence to Pichai, Dr Tambyah wrote how the opposition party was “very disturbed” to hear from one of its partners that Google was introducing a new "political content policy" for Singapore, which took effect on Monday (2 December).

“The policy is particularly alarming as it apparently blocks all political advertisements which include anything that ‘influences or seeks to influence public opinion on a matter which in Singapore is a matter of public interest or public controversy with key examples being those related to race, religion’”.

In response, Ted Osius, Google’s Vice President of  Government Affairs and Public Policy, APAC, explained that the company supports political advertising that is consistent with its policies and compliant with legal requirements around online political advertisements.

“Where applicable, we support political advertising consistent with our policies. However, in the case of Singapore, we decided we will not accept advertising regulated by the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements. This was not an easy decision to make as Google is committed to delivering useful and relevant election-related information to users around the world,” said Osisu, adding that Google had made similar decisions in Canada and Taiwan.

Dr Tambyah followed up with another correspondence to Osius to express “great disappointment” regarding Google’s reply, which he said is “not very helpful”. He also posed additional questions for Osius to reply regarding the issue.

The SDP chairman said Google's actions are “even more incomprehensible” as its Singapore office had invited the opposition party to explain the company services. Shortly after the meeting, the SDP found out about Google’s ban on political advertisements in Singapore. 

“What happened in between?” Dr Tambyah asked.

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