In support of #FreeMyInternet

Free My Internet

As you are well aware by now, various members of the Singapore blogging community have organised themselves as #FreeMyInternet to protest and petition against Media Development Authority’s new licensing regime for news websites.

While not part of the group, I have signed the petition in support. There will also be a symbolic ‘blackout’ (assuming it works on your device) on this blog on 6 June, but you can still access the contents.

Personally, I won’t go as far as to suggest that the government is looking to clamp down on websites such as The Online Citizen (TOC) and TR Emeritus (TRE). Yet I do not blame the online community for a strong reaction that, if anything, signifies the increasing mistrust between the people and the government.

The rules are too broad and vague, leaving too much to the discretion of the authorities. When laws are not clear, they are open to abuse. To this day, the MDA has not explained why only ten sites are subjected to the regulation but not others. Minister Tan Chuan-Jin hemmed and hawed his way through Talking Point on Channel NewsAsia when asked to guarantee that blogs will always be exempted. What becomes clear is that it was an arbitrary decision by the authorities and the written rules remain ambiguous and all-encompassing.

While I have no reason to doubt Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim’s claim that websites can continue as normal, we must also realise that he does not and cannot speak for future MCIs and governments, whether PAP-controlled or otherwise. There will be no protection from a loosely defined legislation should future leaders decide otherwise.

Furthermore, even if alternative social commentary websites report responsibly, as most of them already do, they could at any point in time be required to put up the $50,000 performance bond. Do we want to see the likes of TOC, TRE, and the up-and-coming Breakfast Network shutting down because they can’t pay up, or getting hit with hefty fines for not withdrawing questionable content — by MDA’s definition that leaves no room for contest given the 24-hours time frame?

The other problem is that, in this country, policies and laws are incredibly sticky once they become part of the status quo. In years to come, even if not abused, these rules may become irrelevant or prove to be misdirected. There may be calls yet again to have them repealed. The last thing we want then is the government telling us “it’s always been there and I think we just leave it”.

Dr Yaacob said, “I hope that the activists who are today making this far-fetched claim will be honest enough to admit it when the time comes.” Far-fetched or not, I won’t want to wait until then to find out.