Mothership.sg must be 'individually licensed', says MDA

It will have to follow same licensing rules as major news websites, and put up $50k bond

The website Mothership.sg, which often gives an irreverent take on the news, has to abide by the same licensing rules as major news websites in Singapore.

It was informed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) that it would be "individually licensed" under a framework that requires its operators to put up a performance bond of $50,000.

In addition, its editors must comply with MDA orders to take down, within 24 hours, content that breaches certain standards, such as if it is deemed to be in bad taste, offends religious sensitivi-ties, or relates to vice.

Mothership.sg is the 11th website to be "individually licensed". MDA told the website's executive director Lien We King and managing editor Martino Tan on July 16 that the site met the threshold requiring a licence under Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act, Mr Tan said yesterday.

The regulation applies to online news sites that are accessed from at least 50,000 different Internet protocol addresses in Singapore each month, for a period of two months in a row, and that contain at least one article a week on Singapore news over the same period.

MDA says the licensing framework is necessary because members of the public rely on the content of these websites to make informed decisions, or form judgments on matters of public interest.

The other 10 sites were individually licensed on June 1, 2013. Seven are run by Singapore Press Holdings, including www.straitstimes.com and Stomp. Two are operated by MediaCorp, and one by Yahoo Singapore.

The MDA said yesterday that when a website has met the criteria to be individually licensed, it will issue a formal notification and work with the site to move it to the new licensing framework.

MDA added that the licensing framework is necessary because members of the public rely on the content of these websites to make informed decisions, or form judgments on matters of public interest.

Mothership.sg was launched in August 2013 and is backed by a social enterprise called Project Fisher-Men. It counts former foreign minister George Yeo among its contributors.

Last year, it was registered as a "class licensee" under Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act. This prohibits the site from receiving foreign funds. The regulation was implemented to ensure foreign entities do not engage in Singapore's domestic politics, or control or manipulate local media platforms.

Internet content and service providers in Singapore are automatically "class licensed", which requires them to follow rules on banning offensive content under the Broadcasting Act. On Wednesday, another website, The Middle Ground (TMG), was asked to register as a "class licensee''. TMG is to be registered as an Internet content provider that is engaged in the spreading, promotion and discussion of political issues in Singapore, MDA said. It has been given two weeks to submit the forms.

TMG editor Bertha Henson, who last year closed The Breakfast Network website after she decided not to register it, said on Facebook that she will comply this time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Mothership.sg must be 'individually licensed', says MDA'. Print Edition | Subscribe