What Singapore really needs

What Singapore really needs

Alan Soon is Yahoo!'s country manager for Singapore and its managing editor for Southeast Asia.

I think I'm lucky to be working in online media. Information and technology can transform lives, societies and even governments. But there are moments where these changes collide, often at the crossroads of regulation and the freedom of expression.

Yahoo! is committed to helping protect and promote free expression. We live in a world where millions of people benefit from open discussions, lively commentary and a robust exchange of ideas -- all thanks to the Internet. We believe that societies thrive when people are free to express themselves.

Regulatory scrutiny has increased in the past year around the globe as governments sought to extract accountability on the part of both Internet users and those who operate web sites. The recent licensing framework around the operation of online news sites in Singapore is no different.

So what does Singapore need?

First, when we first started our editorial operations in Singapore, we wanted to help build and engage a thriving community that was interested in the world and society around them -- to inform, entertain and educate our audience.

The web offers an incredible opportunity for open and constructive debate. But there's a flip side to this: online conversations can easily spiral into a downward circle of anger, hatred -- often targeting people of specific nationalities, religions and sexual preferences.

The licensing restrictions around hate speech are in line with our own views. Hate speech has no place online -- and definitely not on Yahoo!. We felt so strongly about this that we launched a campaign called "Silence The Hate" in August last year to drive a message of tolerance.

Even prior to the new licensing regime, Yahoo! was already bound to comply with the Media Development Authority’s Internet Code of Practice -- a key guideline that complements our own internal editorial policies around what is suitable for our audience. Further regulation is redundant. And as the past few days have shown, it creates confusion and unsettles both users, as well as the media industry that Singapore has tried so hard to cultivate.

It is important to reiterate that regulations and guidelines remain meaningful and do not become a tool that restricts freedom of expression and genuine debate. We need to preserve this fine balance and Yahoo! continues to champion this critical aspect of Internet freedom.

Second, journalism thrives on its access to multiple sources. We will be in a better position to cover stories in Singapore. In the past few years, we were restricted from government and other authoritative sources because we were not seen to be an accredited media -- that was a realm of newspapers and broadcasters. The licensing changes will help pave the way for full accreditation and access for our reporters. We will be a stronger editorial team and our stories will improve because of that.

As a network, we serve a million unique users in Singapore each day -- many of whom look to us as a platform of diverse views and a tool for self-expression.

We want to make sure that continues.