Talks between the Singapore government and the bloggers broke down this week following the MDA’s announcement about the new Internet regulation for news portals.
The Online Citizen’s editor Mr Choo Zheng Xi said, “There is a need for this physical protest because numerous dialogues with the government over the last five years about liberalisation and deregulating the Internet have actually concluded in the opposite.”
Calling themselves #FreeMyInternet, the group is organizing a protest on the 8th of June 2013 at 4pm at Hong Lim Green. They have also planned a “blackout day” on Thursday 6th of June where their blogs will be blanked for a period of 24 hours.
#FreeMyInternet is carrying on with the protest despite the government’s assurance that blogs are not affected by this new regulation.
“We want the government to know that the people need to be consulted, and that parliament needs to be consulted before sweeping changes are made to legislation,” said Choo.
There also seems to be some disagreement about whether the new ruling is a regulation or legislation.
A regulation is the manner in which a particular legislation is enforced. In this case, the new Internet regulation seems to be the enforcement of NPPA online. MDA said that it wants to create the parity between traditional and online media.
Pre-emptive strike on aspiring media companies
Some media watchers in Singapore, however, view this new regulation as a pre-emptive strike on aspiring media companies.
Currently, the media landscape in Singapore is dominated by two government linked companies – The Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Mediacorp. According to an earlier report in The Independent Singapore, SPH’s latest quarterly results showed a double dip in readership and revenue of its papers, “including The Straits Times, declining by S$2.4 million and advertising dollars going down by S$13.9 million.”
Some Singaporeans feel that there is some fatigue among Straits Times consumers and they are seeking alternative online news outlets.
While self-styled blogs have had a lot of traction recently, Dr Cherian George says that existing online players, often run by volunteers, have yet to develop into a viable alternative news outlet. They also do not have the broad base news that is currently offered by the traditional media. At best, online blogs are good supplements to traditional media in Singapore, he says.
That leaves a yawning gap between what is demanded and what is currently available in the media landscape in Singapore. Given the shift in readership and the desire to consume news from non-state media, the online space is left vacant for an upstart news media.
Climate of fear
The latest move by the government has created an environment of fear. #FreeMyInternet seems to be of the opinion that government is out to get them, to effectively shut them down and to silence them indefinitely.
The government does have a history of clamping down dissent though. In 2001, a popular socio-political site, Sintercom.com was asked to apply for a media license with Singapore Broadcasting Authority and ten years later, The Online Citizen was gazetted as a political association.
One PAP grassroots member said that strategy now is to give the netizens the rope; “Let them protest and overreact about the new Internet regulation. The people will soon know that they are just crying wolf!”
Their fear and anguish is not unfounded – the new Internet regulation’s rules are so broad that most blogging platforms like TOC, TRE and TRS fall into this new regulatory framework. The government has not made its intentions clear and has left much to be speculated, creating an environment of fear and anguish.
We do not know what the government’s real motivations are, whether their real target is the aspiring media company or the blogger sphere. As for now, we can only speculate – but one thing for sure, the government moves-in to not only protect its monopoly on the media; they also want to shape public opinion by controlling the mass media and most importantly hold their grip on power.
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