Striking the right balance in media regulation

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim (right) at a lecture on media convergence at the National University of Singapore, with former Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan, who moderated the dialogue last night.

STRIKING the right balance in an evolving media landscape is a difficult task, and Singapore may not get it right initially, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

But it should not give up on regulation and should learn to adjust its policies over time, he added.

Singapore needs to ask itself “what is critical for us to preserve, (while keeping the) balance at the same time, when we manage the media landscape”, he said.

In a lecture on media convergence at the National University of Singapore (NUS) last night, Dr Yaacob said that many countries were also grappling with the issue of content providers on the Internet delivering similar services as traditional media like television stations.

For instance, Britain is considering applying the regulatory framework for TV to some aspects of the Internet, while Malaysia is working on putting up a firewall to block content that does not adhere to its content guidelines.

Dr Yaacob said Singapore would have to find an approach that “works for Singapore and Singaporeans”.

To do so, its media laws and regulations – largely unchanged in the last 20 years – would have to be updated so they remain relevant, he added.

Referring to an ongoing review of the media regulatory framework, Dr Yaacob said there were a few areas of focus. First, to level the playing field between local and foreign content providers, as recommended by the Media Convergence Review Panel in November 2012.

Second, to introduce more comprehensive safeguards to prevent foreign interests from influencing local politics through media platforms.

Third, to update the Broadcasting Act to reflect the new environment and practices.

He said the Government would continue its light-touch approach on regulating the Internet, a move it adopted in 1996 when the Class Licence Scheme, which governs websites and Internet service providers, was introduced.

He added that the Government would consult widely on the proposed changes and gave the assurance that the final framework will provide a range of options.

“If you take a singular approach, Singaporeans will be poorer for it,” he said.

Dr Yaacob also said the Internet had opened up new opportunities, which the Government would not ignore.

A committee, led by the private sector, is developing an integrated master plan for infocomm and media, with the aim of creating opportunities for economic growth and social cohesion.

The Government has also increased its investment in public service broadcasts to boost local content development, he added.

“The Government wants local content to thrive. Local content cannot be created by Hollywood.

It speaks to who we are and is relevant to us,” he said.

During the accompanying dialogue with NUS alumni and students, Dr Yaacob was asked for his response to the view that the Government should not intervene in what people see as personal choices, like homosexuality.

He said while society should evolve together, it also had to consider the dominant value at a point in time. “The position we’ve taken is live and let live... we have to preserve the largest common ground possible, so that all groups understand that this common space we have created is something we can all share,” he said.

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