Singapore Media License Requirement “Casts a Chill” on Free Expression

The Straits Times reported that more than 150 websites and blogs in Singapore went black yesterday to protest a new government-imposed licensing requirement that, “casts a chill over the city-state’s robust and free-wheeling online communities,” said Cynthia Wong, Human Rights Watch’s senior Internet researcher, in a statement.

Beginning June 1, the Media Development Authority requires websites that “report regularly on issues relating to Singapore” and attract more than 50,000 unique monthly visitors in Singapore obtain a license and put up an approximately USD$40,000 bond. If the MDA finds “prohibited content,” including that which “undermines racial or religious harmony,” the sites must remove it within 24 hours.

The MDA identified ten mainstream media outlets that must apply for the license, including Yahoo! Singapore, which calls the requirement unsettling. The government said the measure provides consistency with existing media regulations. Siew Kum Hong, a former presidentially appointed member of Parliament, disagreed with the assertion that the law creates parity with traditional forms of media, mentioning that newspapers found to publish prohibited content do not have to collect unsold copies within 24 hours.

The government also said the measure does not apply to blogs, though it does not rule out including blogs in the future. Netizens criticized the measure for its vague language and the lack of public consultation involved in its formation. Bloggers launched a #FreeMyInternet campaign and have scheduled a June 8 protest in Hong Lim Park. As of today more than 4,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the government withdraw the measure.