MPs urged to call for withdrawal of rules for news sites

Blogger group's policy brief to MPs also calls for public consultation

A group of bloggers who organised a series of events to protest against the new licensing rules for news websites are now calling on Members of Parliament to ask for the regulations to be withdrawn or at least suspended.

The bloggers, who call themselves Free My Internet, issued the call in a policy brief they sent to MPs ahead of the Parliament sitting on Monday.

In the brief, posted online yesterday, the bloggers also appealed to MPs to commission an "open and transparent" public consultation with all stakeholders.

While the Media Development Authority (MDA) had implemented the rules last month, the bloggers hope MPs will get a chance to debate the need for these rules in Parliament.

Among other things, licensed news sites must remove prohibited content within 24 hours of a government order and put up a $50,000 performance bond.

The bloggers highlighted some key issues, like the lack of consultation and transparency in introducing the rules. The MDA had announced them in the same week they took effect.

They also felt the rules disregarded the findings of previous consultation exercises, like a 2008 report by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, calling for greater online space for political content.

Other issues the bloggers criticised include the "overly broad" definition of a news programme and the absence of a formal media regulation process in Singapore.

"An ideal media regulation regime should address concerns of online censorship and aspirations for a larger media and political space online while providing a conducive and predictable legal environment for credible and responsible players to develop and flourish," they said in their brief.

Since the MDA regulations were announced, Free My Internet has initiated an online petition and an online blackout and held a protest rally at Speakers' Corner.

MPs like Mr Alvin Yeo yesterday said they would read the brief ahead of Monday's sitting, which is likely to be a lively session as MPs from all three parties in Parliament will speak on the rules.

Several People's Action Party MPs have filed questions.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Baey Yam Keng said they had met some bloggers and will reflect their views in their questions.

"But the brief will give greater clarity on what should be discussed and MPs will also come prepared," said Mr Zaqy.

Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Gerald Giam of the Workers' Party, who has read the brief, commended the online community's effort in contributing to the debate "in and out of Parliament".

Mr Giam and his party's MPs, Mr Chen Show Mao and Mr Pritam Singh, have also filed questions.

NCMP Lina Chiam of the Singapore People's Party has filed an adjournment motion, which will let her speak on the topic for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

andreao@sph.com.sg