MDA’s light touch regulation is an overkill

From ‘Views published on blogs not news reporting:MDA’, 31 May 2013, article by Leonard Lim, ST and ‘New web rules amount to overkill’, 30 May 2013, Voices, Today

…From tomorrow, news sites with significant reach and which report on Singapore regularly must be individually licensed. Currently, most websites automatically fall under a class license scheme. The new framework makes clear that license-holders must remove content that is deemed objectionable within 24 hours, if notified to do so.

They must also post a $50,000 performance bond. Ten sites are on the list of those who have been formally notified by the MDA. They include seven run by the Singapore Press Holdings. The MDA statement added that it would only step in when complaints are raised to their attention, and the content is assessed to be in breach of guidelines and merits action.

“Takedown requests are not common. In the past two years, MDA has only issued one take-down notice for the “Innocence of Muslims” video,” it added.

(Vincent Law): …The Media Development Authority (MDA) statement, “as the sites are already subject to these requirements, no change in content standards is expected to result”, suggests there will not be any real advancement in quality control. What is new is that online news sites have to put up a S$50,000 performance bond, and are expected to comply within 24 hours with the MDA’s directives to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards.

Given the current healthy state of affairs in cyberspace, except for occasional skirmishes which the authorities have been able to deal with decisively, the new regime appears to be overkill.

He sees you when you’re surfing

MDA, in its Facebook announcement, maintains that the ‘framework is not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites’. It’s actually the counter-intuitive ‘performance bond’ and annual renewal fees that may turn current news reporting to either self-censored mediocrity or tabloid trash if news makers compromise journalistic gung-ho or integrity for safe news or sensation in order to survive. As if having one New Paper isn’t enough.

MDA assures news providers that it tries to minimise drastic intervention, but this so-called ‘takedown’ of the Innocence of Muslims video wasn’t very successful anyway (you can still watch it on Youtube), an example of futile enforcement which proves that MDA is powerless when it comes to Internet regulation and imposing rigid standards on new media doesn’t guarantee quality or ‘clean’ media. Some whiz kid even outsmarted the government’s filters by inventing a program that allows you access MDA-banned porno sites and nobody has done anything about it to date. If there’s any little good that comes out of internet clampdown, it’s how it spurs creativity in hackers to surmount it. The ‘regularization’ of news as we know it will not be any different. They may have stunted the news, but they forget about the classic rumour-mill that is the ‘grapevine’. In fact, you don’t even need the news to spread information about an Islam-hating video. We have Facebook to thank for that. Try regulating THAT, Yaacob.

What rankles the ‘alternative voice’ community is how this whole thing was set up and communicated. Minister Yaacob once told us in 2012 that an internet ‘code of conduct’ should be a ‘bottom-up’ approach initiated by netizens, but this MDA move was clearly a bomb dropped from above without any warning signs, with the affected sites given just days to prepare for shellshock. He also once advised social media users to ‘use common sense’ in verifying the accuracy of online reports. It seems that within the space of a year, Yaacob and his lot have lost their trust in the public’s sense of discretion entirely, that if we read something about UFOs circling the sky the entire nation would immediately crumble to their feet to pray for mercy from our tyrannical alien overlords.

MDA also presumes that traditionally licensed media that is the bread and butter of the agency is naturally ‘responsible’ in their news reporting. Say what you will about the ST being a propaganda machine, but conducting a snap poll before a by-election isn’t exactly something a responsible, role-model newspaper would do whatever party they’re sympathetic to. And it appears they have gotten away with it despite having the police knocking on their doors. If there’s any media that needs MORE regulation it’s probably the mainstream media itself. MDA, unsurprisingly, was silent about the whole polling affair despite being the ones responsible for ST’s licensure. $50,000 to keep mum when regulations are flouted, well, that’s a JOB, apparently.

So I viewed the MDA rap video once more and wondered how they’d feel if I randomly censored their work.  This was the outcome:

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 13

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 14

The image above is strangely accurate in terms of MDA’s regulatory stance. Chilling stuff.

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