"Free My Internet" netizens to protest against MDA rule

Several sociopolitical websites and bloggers will hold a protest both online and offline this week against the new licensing scheme that came into effect yesterday.

The group of netizens - which calls itself Free My Internet - circulated a statement online yesterday calling for people to join them at a rally at Speakers' Corner this Saturday, as well as for netizens to shut down their blogs and websites for 24 hours this Thursday.

The statement had 34 signatories, including the editors of sites such as The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus and Public House; prominent bloggers and Mr Gilbert Goh, the man who organised the recent protests at Hong Lim Park against the White Paper on Population.

Earlier last week, the Media Development Authority (MDA) introduced a new licensing framework for news websites.

Under the new rules, sites which report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore news and current affairs over a period of two months, and reach at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month over a period of two months, must apply for an individual licence.

Previously, all websites were automatically licensed under a class licensing scheme.

MDA has said that the rules do not alter current content standards and are designed to give parity to regulations covering mainstream and online media.

The rules impose a 24-hour deadline for websites owners to take down offensive content and requires licensees to put up a $50,000 performance bond. MDA has also clarified that individuals writing blogs do not require a licence.

The rules have sparked an angry reaction from netizens who see the move as a bid by the Government to clamp down on expression online.

In their statement yesterday, they said: "We encourage all Singaporeans who are concerned about our future and our ability to participate in everyday online activities and discussions, and to seek out alternative news and analysis, to take a strong stand against the licensing regime which can impede on your independence."

The Free My Internet group also launched an online petition for the immediate withdrawal of the licensing scheme. It calls on the Ministry of Communication and Information to undertake "a complete review of all media regulation in Singapore, with the aim of ensuring that the constitutional rights of Singaporeans are not violated".

The trouble with trying to control the Internet - Think