Internet coalition objects to MDA's rules

FOUR major Internet and technology companies have raised their concerns about a recently-introduced Government licensing framework for online news sites, calling it "unwarranted and excessive".

The companies - Facebook, Google, eBay and Yahoo - issued their statement via an industry association representing their interests in Internet policy issues in the region, called the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC).

In a three-page letter on its website dated June 14 and addressed to the Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, the AIC expressed worries that the licensing regime could affect Singapore's business-friendly image.

The regime, introduced last month, mandates that websites which have more than 50,000 Singapore visitor a month and carry more than one news story per week, must obtain an individual licence.

This entails putting up a $50,000 performance bond. If or when licensees are told by the Government to take down prohibited content, they are given 24 hours to comply.

The AIC made two requests.

One is that the regulation includes a statement that licensees will not be liable for content posted on their sites by users.

The second concerns the 24 hour window. AIC said this is too short, and asked that licensees instead be given a "reasonable timeframe" in which they must make their "best endeavours" to comply.

In addition, AIC took issue with the $50,000 performance bond, saing it would be a "financial risk" to startups, and that the case for having such a bond is "unclear".

The MCI said it told AIC that Singapore adopts a "light touch approach" in Internet regulation, and the licensing framework has not changed this approach.

It reiterated that the new regulations are for greater parity for news providers on traditional and online media platforms.

It said that the Media Development Authority had met with AIC in early June to provide clarifications, and invited the coalition to take part in an upcoming public consultation on amendments to the Broadcasting Act next year.

This will involve the regulation of foreign broadcasters targeting Singapore, including foreign-based news sites reporting on the country.