The Singapore government is stepping up censorship control of local online news sites which report regularly on the country and have significant reach.
From 1 June, 10 websites will be subjected to an individual licence, just like traditional
Once the affected sites come under the individual licensing regime, they will have to fork out a performance bond of S$50,000. They will also have to comply with any take-down notice from authorities within 24 hours. The
authorities can ban content including tha which solicits for prostitution, undermines racial and religious harmony, or goes against good taste.
Communications and Information Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim also hinted that the rule may in future apply
to overseas news sites reporting on Singapore. He said the Broadcasting Act will be amended next year, with the view of including overseas news sites reporting on Singapore. Yaacob said:
Our mainstream media are
subjected to rules, you know... Why shouldn't the online media be part of that regulatory framework? I don't see this as a clamping down, if anything, it is regularising what is already happening on the Internet and (making sure) that they are on par
with our mainstream media.
Online news sites which fulfil two specific criteria will be subjected to this latest censorship scheme.
Sites which publish at least eight articles on Singapore over a period of two months.
They must also have been visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month, over the same period.
So far, 10 such sites have been identified. All belong to mainstream media, with the exception of Yahoo news.
The Singapore government's plan to register online news sites for state censorship has drawn opposition from online users.
A group called Free My Internet has organised an online blackout to protest against the Media Development Authority
(MDA) requirement for news sites reporting on Singapore at least once a week and with an audience of 50,000, to be licensed .
More than 130 sites consisting of blogs and alternative news outlets are participating in the blackout. Users who access
the sites will see nothing but a link to the Free My Internet site and also a message for an actual protest that's set to happen on June 8 at Singapore's Speakers' Corner .
The Free My Internet group wants the Singapore government to withdraw the
Licensing Regime and for the Ministry of Communication and Information (MICA) to undertake a complete review of all media regulation in Singapore, with the aim of ensuring that the constitutional rights of Singaporeans are not violated .
About 1000 Singaporeans rallied Saturday to protest a new government censorship policy that requires some news websites to obtain licenses. A
crowd that gathered at the Speakers' Corner free speech area of a Singapore park listened to bloggers and other speakers denounce the censorship. One man held a poster that read, Internet censorship: Worst idea ever, while many booed when the
names of government officials were spoken.
The rally's chief organizer, Howard Lee, said the demonstrators hope to draw attention to a petition that has more than 4000 signatures demanding the withdrawal of the policy.
Human Rights Watch
said in a statement that the new requirement:
casts a chill over the city-state's robust and free-wheeling online communities, and will clearly limit Singaporeans' access to independent media. Singapore is placing its
status as a world-class financial center at clear risk by extending its record of draconian media censorship to the digital world.
A Singaporean news site known as Breakfast Network was forced to close down after it rejected onerous new government registration requirements. Founded by former Straits Times journalist and blogger Bertha Henson, the site features social and
political news and commentary. Henson elected to cease website operations after failing to submit documents demanded by the Media Development Authority (MDA). Despite warnings from the MDA, Breakfast Network is maintaining an online presence through its
Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Under a section of the Broadcasting (Class License) Act introduced last June , a corporate entity or website providing political commentary must register with the MDA to ensure that it does not receive foreign funding.
Aside from revealing its funding source, the website must submit the personal information of its editors and staff.
Breakfast Network was ordered by the MDA to register on or before December 17 but the website editor said the government's
technical requirements and registration forms contained too many vague provisions .
For its part, the MDA directed Breakfast Network to cease its online service, including its Facebook and Twitter publications:
Network has decided not to submit the registration form, and will therefore not be complying with the registration notification, MDA will require that Breakfast Network cease its online service.
Netizens and media groups quickly denounced the overly-intrusive requirements
imposed by the government and warned against excessive media regulation. Cherian George described the site's closure as death by red tape . Braema Mathi of the human rights group Maruah worried that the registration requirement has chilled
and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore. She continued:
As a regulator tasked with developing the media landscape in Singapore, MDA should consider the substantive impact of its decisions, not just
its own subjective intent. Registration requirements can operate to censor free expression as effectively as, and more insidiously than, outright demands to remove content.
The closure of a leading socio-political website has put a
spotlight on what the Singaporean government calls a light touch approach Internet regulation. Many groups believe this and other new policies are undermining media freedom in the country.
Singapore is set to introduce a new anti-fake news law, allowing authorities to remove articles deemed to breach government regulations.
The law, being read in parliament this week will further stifle dissent in an already tightly-controlled media
environment. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested that the law would tackle the country's growing problem of online misinformation. It follows an examination of fake news in Singapore by a parliamentary committee last year, which
concluded that the city-state was a target of hostile information campaigns.
Lee said the law will require media outlets to correct fake news articles, and show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can
see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter. In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have Asia
headquarters in Singapore, with the companies expected to be under increased pressure to aid the law's implementation.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned the Singapore parliament's passage of legislation that will be used to stifle reporting and the dissemination of news, and called for the punitive measure's immediate repeal.
from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act , which was passed yesterday, gives all government ministers broad and arbitrary powers to demand corrections, remove content, and block webpages if they are deemed to be disseminating falsehoods against
the public interest or to undermine public confidence in the government, both on public websites and within chat programs such as WhatsApp, according to news reports .
Violations of the law will be punishable with maximum 10-year jail terms and
fines of up to $1 million Singapore dollars (US$735,000), according to those reports. The law was passed after a two-day debate and is expected to come into force in the next few week.
Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asian
This law will give Singapore's ministers yet another tool to suppress and censor news that does not fit with the People's Action Party-dominated government's authoritarian narrative. Singapore's
online media is already over-regulated and severely censored. The law should be dropped for the sake of press freedom.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam said censorship orders would be made mainly against technology companies that hosted the
objectionable content, and that they would be able to challenge the government's take-down requests,.
Singapore's sweeping internet censorship law, claimed to be targeting 'fake news' came into force this week. Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill , it is now illegal to spread statements deemed false under
circumstances in which that information is deemed prejudicial to Singapore's security, public safety, public tranquility, or to the friendly relations of Singapore with other countries, among numerous other topics.
Government ministers can decide
whether to order something deemed fake news to be taken down, or for a correction to be put up alongside it. They can also order technology companies such as Facebook and Google to block accounts or sites spreading the information that the government
The act also provides for prosecutions of individuals, who can face fines of up to 50,000 SGD (over $36,000), and, or, up to five years in prison.
Singapore's new law designed to counter fake news is now fully in effect. It allows the country's government to issue corrections of information that it deems to be false, and fine those publishing it up to an equivalent of $730,000 and send them to
prison for up to ten years.
Singapore is now attempting to apply the new legislation globally, by ordering Facebook to correct a post made by a user in Australia. This is one of the points the critics of the legislation have been making ever since it
was passed in May -- that it will likely be used to stifle freedom of expression not only in Singapore but also beyond its borders.
The law, officially the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, is described as one of the toughest
in the world -- while the order dispatched to Facebook marks the first time Singapore has attempted to directly influence a social media platform and content hosted on it.
The supposed 'fake news' in the first invocation of the law involved
improvable claims in argument between the government and a government Singaporean critic now based in Australia. It seems unlikely that Facebook can substantiate or arbitrate the actual truth of the claims.
In this case, Facebook has added a
correction notice to the disputed post saying:
Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.
Facebook has blocked Singapore-based users access to the page of the State Times' Review (STR) on the orders of the Singapore government.
STR has been accused on multiple occasions by the government claiming fake news and misinformation. The latest
correction notice was served after STR posted an article containing claims about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation that was deemed entirely untrue according to the government.
After STR failed to heed the notice, the government resorted to
ordering Facebook to block Singapore users from accessing STR's page.
Facebook complied as it said it was legally compelled to carry out the order. However, the social network told Channel NewsAsia it believed orders like this are disproportionate
and contradict the Singapore government's claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool. A Facebook spokesman said:
We've repeatedly highlighted this law's potential for overreach and we're deeply concerned
about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore.