| SINGAPORE, June 7
SINGAPORE, June 7 Human Rights Watch said on
Friday that Singapore is undercutting its status as a financial
centre by expanding media censorship to the web and urged the
city-state's government to withdraw the new licensing
requirement for online news sites.
Singapore is a major banking and trading hub and many
companies have set up their regional headquarters in the
city-state because of its relatively low corporate tax rate,
strong infrastructure and ease of travel in Southeast Asia.
Singapore's licensing scheme casts a chill over its "robust
and free-wheeling" online communities and will limit
Singaporeans' access to independent media, said Cynthia Wong,
senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"Websites will be forced into the role of private censors on
behalf of the government," Wong said. "Singapore is placing its
status as a world-class financial center at clear risk by
extending its record of draconian media censorship to the
Websites that regularly report on Singapore will have to get
a license from June 1, putting them on par with newspapers and
television news outlets, the Media Development Authority (MDA)
said last week.
The MDA identified sg.news.yahoo.com, a service run by
Internet giant Yahoo! Inc, as among 10 sites that would
be affected by the new requirement, based on criteria such as
having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore a month over a
period of two months.
Conditions for the sites that require individual licenses,
which have to be reviewed annually, include a performance bond
of S$50,000 ($39,700) and a requirement that objectionable
content be removed within 24 hours when directed by the MDA.
The MDA was not immediately available for comment on the
Human Rights Watch statement.
A government minister was quoted by the local media as
saying earlier this week that the new licensing requirement for
news website is not a fundamental shift in policy.
"Like our regulations in the physical world, our regulations
for the online space are meant to ensure that people are
responsible for their actions, which have real-world
consequences," Singapore's Straits Times quoted Minister for
Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim as saying.
The move has drawn strong criticism from various bloggers
and socio-political websites like The Online Citizen.
A group called "Free My Internet" organised a black-out on
Thursday to push for a withdrawal of the licensing scheme. They
will also hold a protest at Singapore's Hong Lim Park or the
city-state's version of London's Hyde Park corner on Saturday.
Even before the new licensing scheme, Yahoo! News was
already bound to comply with the MDA's Internet Code of
Practice, which complements its internal editorial policies,
said Alan Soon, Yahoo's country manager for Singapore and
managing editor for Southeast Asia.
"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," he said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders, in its latest report, ranked
Singapore 149th out of 179 countries in terms of press freedom,
down 14 places from 2012 and below many of its neighbours.
(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata; Editing by Michael Perry)