Requiring sociopolitical sites to register "necessary" in the interim: Lawrence Wong
Two socio-political sites were asked to register while the Government is looking into introducing more comprehensive safeguards to prevent foreign interests from influencing local politics through the Singapore media.
This was "necessary" in the interim so that the sites, The Independent and Breakfast Network, are aware from the outset that they were not to receive foreign funding, rather than for them to accept such investment into their corporate structure only to have to unwind it later, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong on Monday.
That would have caused them even more problems, he added.
"The case of The Independent revealed potential problems when sites which engage in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues structure themselves as corporate entities to receive investment, including from foreign sources," he said.
The prohibition for foreign funding stems from the longstanding principle that foreign entities are not allowed to engage in Singapore politics, Mr Wong reiterated, which "responsible operators do not disagree with".
The Independent was asked to register with the Media Development Authority (MDA) last July, and the Breakfast Network in November.
This is because the class licensing scheme, which was instituted in 1996, does not currently contain specific provisions against Internet Content Providers (ICPs) accepting foreign funding.
This was not recognised as likely back then, explained Mr Wong, who was responding to a parliamentary question by Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair on the class licence scheme.
Most online websites are covered under an automatic class licence.
For newspapers operating under permits issued under the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, there are clear provisions to allow newspapers to be subject to provisions controlling foreign influence, Mr Wong said.
The Broadcasting Act, which ICPs are regulated under, also recognises this principle.
Those who have to register with the MDA include sites which promote or discuss political or religious issues relating to Singapore, and websites of registered political parties.
All 12 sites which MDA had previously registered for providing political content had been gazetted as political associations under the Political Donations Act and hence are prohibited from receiving foreign funding, said Mr Wong.
However, because the Independent and Breakfast Network are not political associations, they were not yet prohibited from receiving foreign funding.
Requiring registrations for class licences is an integral part of the MDA's licensing framework and "has been used selectively, but consistently", said Mr Wong, adding that the authority will continue to adopt this approach.
It is also in discussion with The Independent to sort out exactly how to implement the policy, said Mr Wong in response to a follow-up question from Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam. Mr Wong acknowledged that there can be difficulties in tracking sources of advertising funding on the Internet.