Licence to a more civil online discourse

Prof Ang says the benefit of being civil online is that "you can advertise seriously. It becomes commercially viable and win-win. The site provider gets to make some revenue, readers come on, and the advertiser loves it".

Ten news sites that provide regular reports on Singapore and have significant reach will need individual licences from today, as regulators bid to align regulations for online news platforms with those for print and broadcast.

The Media Development Authority stressed that the move, announced on Tuesday, was not to clamp down on Internet freedom. But many in the online fraternity interpreted it as a way to rein them in. The new licence requires holders to take down content that breaches certain standards within 24 hours of being notified. This could be something that goes against good taste, offends religious sensitivities, or relates to vice.

Communications professor and director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre Ang Peng Hwa and Siew Kum Hong, a former Nominated MP and regular online commentator, speak to Leonard Lim and Tessa Wong.

What do you make of the new licensing framework, and its impact on the media landscape in Singapore?

 It's a bold step in the sense that other people haven't done it, but small in that it's being confined to news sites and commercial players.

It seems targeted at intentional news providers with a sizeable audience, and I do not think the rules would have a big impact on them. These professional news providers know what the prohibited content is and what the rules are.

But one problem might be in readers' comments.

It adds to cost as you need somebody on standby, to respond to the MDA's request to take down the content.

The ruling will be more problematic for amateur sites, and maybe civil society groups, with less resources. The impact would be to constrain the size of the media market, and benefit the incumbents.

Start-ups have to worry about growing - if you reach a sizeable market, you suddenly have this additional cost.

It may not have a chilling effect on the content of news providers, but on media start-ups.

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