The tragic irony of MDA’s licensing framework
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Written by Ng E-Jay
11 December 2013
Barely a few weeks ago, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that we need to build secure and responsible online spaces to encourage constructive exchange of views among Singaporeans. The tragic irony is that MDA’s licensing framework has achieved the opposite effect.
Yesterday, the Breakfast Network, an online news and commentary portal that was launched several months ago, announced that they had to shut down their operations due to the licensing demands of the Media Development Authority. Although the Breakfast Network will continue to post articles on their Facebook page, their inability to conform to MDA’s onerous and stifling licensing regime has effectively gagged them.
The site’s founder, Ms Bertha Henson, a former editor with the Straits Times, had announced on Monday night that the site will not be registering under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification as required by MDA.
MDA’s requirement had included the submission of the names, NRIC, addresses, and other personal details of all editors involved in the website, as well as a highly detailed declaration of all sources of funding and their origins, including possibly advertisements originating from foreign sources. The Breakfast Network must have found that the intrusiveness and the highly complex administrative undertaking in detailing every single source of income to be unacceptable.
The tragic irony is that no matter whether we agree with the content of the website, the Breakfast Network has always engaged in constructive commentary and avoided anti-social behaviour such as plagiarism, xenophobia, distortion of facts, or unwarranted sensationalism. The Breakfast Network represents what PM Lee calls “constructive dialogue”, even if the dialogue is on rare occasion critical of the government.
The closure of the BN website thus represents one less constructive voice of reason in cyberspace, in contrary to PM Lee’s stated objective of having more avenues of constructive debate available.
On the other hand, other websites, Facebook pages, forums or portals that engage in xenophobia, sexism, plagiarism, distortion of facts, or outright character assassination continue their operations unperturbed because the writers hide under a cloak of anonymity where they can escape MDA’s licensing regime.
MDA’s licensing regime thus rewards anonymous anti-social behaviour, but punishes constructive commentators who put their real names forward and stand up to be counted.
I therefore submit that the government’s stated aim of having more constructive online spaces for healthy dialogue has been betrayed by the MDA.
It is said that sophisticated oppressors curtail free speech by setting limits and boundaries as to what can be discussed, but allowing vigorous debate within those boundaries.
The government, no doubt, has in this case acted as a highly sophisticated oppressor, forcing the removal via legislation what could have been good avenues of constructive and critical dialogue, whilst leaving their pathetic online REACH portal and other government feedback channels free from obstruction.