Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Online Citizens in Singapore -- A Crisis?

The Singapore Government has controlled Media for a long time. The Media Development Authority was setup to control the dissemination of information to Singaporeans. Censorship was done so that propaganda by foreign nations do not threaten the sovereign nation.

For long periods of time, the right to demonstrate, the right to protest and simply the right to pick a president is not available to Singaporeans. For the most part, the Singapore Government can do a pretty good job in transforming Singapore to a first world economy, without the participation of its people. Even though Singapore considers themselves a democratic country, the majority of the citizens do not get a chance to vote for anything. Politics is a subject that is faux pas in the University, at work and most public places.

For the longest time, Singaporeans have much to say, but they usually gather at food courts and coffee places and voice dissatisfaction among strangers, and nothing has solidified. You get to hear complains from Cab drivers, on buses and barber shops, but it seems that much of the population is too petrified to do anything.

With the Internet and Web 2.0, people with similar interests -- wanting their opinions heard by the government -- found social networks that they can self organize, share information and learn from one another.

The social networks grew, and although a lot of these social networks and blogs are considered not much of a threat to the government, are starting to become more and more influential.

A popular site: The Temasek Review
Is an alternative source of information which challenges the government's information and statistics, and makes fun of the controlled mainstream media in Singapore, is starting to gain readership and participation.

Another popular site: The Online Citizen
Has more Facebook Fans and vibrant discussions that the government news sites. The Online Citizen constantly talks about situations and things happening in Singapore or affecting Singapore, and they have an independent view from the traditional press in Singapore.

With the popularity of social media, and extremely high Internet penetration in Singapore, these online groups are starting to become a threat, especially when the election year approaches, and since the government would still like to control the message on all mediums, like they have done in the past for Magazines like Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) which was banned in Singapore in September 2006 for taking a different view of 인민의 어버이 the "father of our people" Lee Kwan Yew.

Controlling or banning a printed magazine may be an easy task, but with social networks, and the ease of starting up a new blog and webpage, managing information is a much harder task, even for Singapore.

Online Crisis.

With the alternative voices increasing in volume online, it is increasingly hard to snuff out dissent. However, these are the steps that the government is taking to control the alternative views.

1) Temasek Review

The Government has its Singapore Investment Subsidiary -- Temasek Holdings.(Temasek - 'Sea Town' in Javanese, spelt Tumasik was the name of an early city on the site of modern Singapore. From the 14th century, the island has also been known as Singapura, which is derived from Sanskrit and means "Lion City".)

Temasek Holdings with the nations' sovereign wealth is suing Temasek Reviews for using the name Temasek, and confusing people. (Temasek Holdings does not really need a review or review anything.) And Temasek Holdings wants Temasek Review website to change its name. --> News <-- There is also a new law enacted: In relation to registering a company with the name "Temasek" in it, Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority Singapore (ACRA), in its website, advised that the following is not allowed:
1. Undesirable names
2. Names which are identical to a sole-proprietorship / partnership name or to that of any other company, corporation, limited liability partnership or limited partnership
3. Names which are identical to a name being reserved under the Business Registration Act, the Companies Act, the Limited Liability Partnerships Act or Limited Partnerships Act
4. Names which the Minister has directed the Registrar not to accept for registration, eg Temasek

2) The Online Citizen (TOC)

PM wants TOC gazetted as Political Association, so the Media Development Authority (MDA) has written to The Online Citizen’s Joshua Chiang and Choo Zheng Xi, informing them that TOC has been determined to be ‘providing a programme for the promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore’. As such, the website has to be registered with the MDA ‘under condition 4 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class License) Notification’.

What exactly does that mean?

1) It cannot get foreign donations.
(I don't think it is funded by foreign elements or sources anyway.)

2) They need to list the identities of its owners, editorial team and administrators.

Wait... as political website under condition 4 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class License) Notification.

What is this Condition 4?

"An Internet Content Provider who is or is determined by the Authority to be a body of persons engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore on the World Wide Web through the Internet, shall register with the Authority within 14 days after the commencement of its service, or within such longer time as the Authority may permit"

And what is a Political Association? According to the Political Donations Act,

"political association" means —

(a) a political party or an organisation which has as one of its objects or activities the promotion or procuring of the election to Parliament or to the office of President of a candidate or candidates endorsed by the organisation; or

(b) an organisation (not being a branch of any organisation) whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore and which is declared by the Minister, by order in the Gazette, to be a political association for the purposes of this Act;

Although TOC tried to appeal the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has reaffirmed its position that TOC is a political association.

The laws and rules after becoming a political association is much tougher, and it often leaves the people in charge more liable for their actions.

Will these moves stop the online voices in Singapore?

Only time will tell.

-- Robin Low

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