Is Govt's light touch over?

Is Govt's light touch over?

SINGAPORE - Are the days of the Government's "light touch" approach to Internet regulation over?

Observers The New Paper spoke to are divided over whether the decision by socio-political website Breakfast Network (BN) to close on Monday points in that direction.

Some allege a lack of clarity in the rules enforced by Media Development Authority (MDA) for licensing online news websites.

Others said the "light touch" is still being applied, albeit in a different form.

Earlier this week, BN's owner, shareholder and editor Bertha Henson announced that it has decided to suspend operations, citing the "onerous" registration process which required several forms to be filled, including details on finance and volunteers, as one of its reasons.

The following day, the MDA responded that since BN, which had been given a Dec 17 deadline, had decided not to submit the registration forms, it "will require that Breakfast Network cease its online service".

BN is not the first website to shut down following a call for registration.

In 2001, Sintercom, Singapore's first online magazine, decided to close down when the Government asked it to register.

Lack of clarity?

Blogger Andrew Loh said that the main issue here "is a lack of clarity on the regulations".

The enforcement of the regulations also "leads to confusion", argued the editor with sociopolitical blog The Online Citizen. The blog has not been asked to register, although it has more than 50,000 unique visitors a month and more than one news story on Singapore per week.

He said: "They seem to be implemented arbitrarily and in a confused manner. While BN and The Independent were asked to register, other sites like The Real Singapore and New Asia Republic have not."

On his blog, political commentator Cherian George also questioned MDA's move and lamented the loss of the "light touch" the authorities once took.

Singapore Management University (SMU) associate law professor Eugene Tan told TNP: "The Breakfast Network episode is perhaps a not so subtle, counter-intuitive shift towards more regulation for social and political commentary."

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