Blogger group asks MDA to revoke decision to suspend class licence for The Real Singapore

Mr Yang Kaiheng, 26, and Ms Ai Takagi, 22, editors of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS). A group of bloggers has asked the Media Development Authority to revoke its decision to suspend the licence of the editors to operate TRS. -- ST P
Mr Yang Kaiheng, 26, and Ms Ai Takagi, 22, editors of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS). A group of bloggers has asked the Media Development Authority to revoke its decision to suspend the licence of the editors to operate TRS. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A day after the Media Development Authority (MDA) ordered the shutdown of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) to the approval of some media observers, a group of bloggers has asked the statutory board to revoke its decision.

MDA on Sunday suspended TRS editors Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi's statutory class licence to operate the site as it had published material that is "objectionable on the ground of public interest, public order and national harmony".

But the Free My Internet group said in a statement yesterday that it was disappointed by the agency's move - which it saw as "arbitrary and unsubstantiated".

"The right way to deal with any content deemed objectionable and offensive is with open discussion and reasoned debate," it said.

It also questioned whether MDA's explanation that TRS carried several articles that "sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore" could be taken as sub-judice.

Yang, who is Singaporean, and Takagi, an Australian, were last month charged with sedition.

But at a media briefing on Sunday, MDA made clear that it would have initiated the suspension - which is in accordance with the Broadcasting Act - even if there were no sedition charges.

"This regulatory action is independent of the sedition charges that Yang and Takagi currently face... MDA's move is also not dependent on the outcome of the sedition charges," said a spokesman, adding that the issue of sub-judice therefore did not arise.

The Free My Internet group, which counts the editors of sociopolitical sites like The Online Citizen (TOC) and TR Emeritus among its members, was started in 2013 to protest against new licensing rules for news websites.

Yesterday's statement was made with the exclusion of TOC co-founder Choo Zheng Xi, the laywer representing Ai and Takagi in their court case.

Even as online activists criticise the agency's decision as clamping down on the freedom of speech, media and political observers said it was the right thing to do as TRS had not upheld responsible journalism standards.

Former nominated MP Calvin Cheng, who has campaigned for TRS to be shut down, said MDA's move sent an important signal to Singaporeans.

The Internet is bound by the country's laws and no one can stay truly anonymous online, so troublemakers can be caught, he said.

He added: "This will bode well for a healthier, law-abiding internet where netizens are also responsible citizens."