An eye on public interest amid media convergence

An eye on public interest amid media convergence

In 2012, Apple launched iTunes here, offering viewers movies streamed to their computers, phones and tablets.

Now, Samsung has revealed plans to debut a TV show rental service for its device users here.

These new services that blur the lines between different media platforms are challenging Singapore's decades-old media regulatory framework. It is unclear whether these Internet video-streaming services need to apply for a broadcasting licence to operate here.

Apple's iTunes caused a stir, as it was offering R21 movies containing nudity and violence - content that pay-TV providers and video retailers here are banned from distributing. Apple later took down these R21 titles and has since been in talks with regulators on its licensing requirements here.

So, it is timely that the Ministry of Communications and Information is looking to amend the Broadcasting Act to address converged media services issues.

The ministry said yesterday in its Addenda to the President's Address that it plans to "ensure infocomm and media regulations protect and uphold the public interest and the national interest".

Details are not out but based on the recommendations of the Media Convergence Review Panel in November 2012, the Government could demand that foreign online video service providers targeting Singapore get a licence. They should follow the law of the land in ensuring content does not damage national harmony or offend good taste.

Besides not distributing R21 movies here, Singapore pay-TV operators such as SingTel and StarHub, and video retailers here also have to rate films' suitability for various age groups.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament in March of the need for "greater parity in the treatment of local and overseas broadcasters".

If a foreign player enters the local market and offers the same content as SingTel and StarHub, but does not need to pay licensing fees or abide by the local content rating system, there would be unhappiness from companies that play by the rules.

That means the local media regime needs to accommodate the latest technological developments to ensure fairness for all video service players here. New players should be welcomed as they inject competition, which benefits consumers. Still, public and national interests need to be protected.

Parents, for one, would want the assurance that movies or TV shows streamed to smartphones or tablets do not create a legitimate backdoor for children to access content unsuitable for them.

This article was first published on May 24, 2014.
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