No major changes likely for online licensing rules

MDA working out fine print of licence while taking in feedback from media firms

The three media companies that have come under the new online regulatory framework are giving feedback on the terms of the licence, but there will likely be no substantive change to the thrust of the rules, said a government official yesterday.

Mr Aubeck Kam, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information, told reporters that talks are ongoing with the Media Development Authority.

He was speaking to the media after a forum that discussed the new licensing regime for news websites. The MDA comes under his ministry.

At the forum, he explained that the regulations that came into force on June 1 simply enabled MDA to create the framework.

Now, it is engaged in working out the fine print of the licence while considering the feedback from the media companies.

Ten websites have been told to apply for individual licences. They are owned by three media companies: Singapore Press Holdings, Yahoo and MediaCorp. Each site has to put up a $50,000 performance bond, and must take down prohibited content within 24 hours when ordered by the Government.

About 60 IT professionals, bloggers and students attended the two-hour forum, organised by the Singapore Computer Society and the Internet Society Singapore Chapter.

Mr Kam later told reporters the feedback from the three companies has been about the clarity of the regulations, "with the view of improving accuracy of the conditions, how it's worded. The key parameters are not major points of contention".

Asked if this meant the MDA will not likely change any part of the regulations, he said: "The substance of the parameters, these are not the issues the companies have reflected they are uncomfortable with."

His remarks follow requests for changes from a coalition of Internet and technology companies, including Yahoo.

The group wants the Government to replace the 24-hour requirement with a less specific timeframe, as well as not to hold websites liable for content posted by other users.

Will the MDA take their requests in into account in drafting the licence?

Mr Kam replied: "It (the licence) would have clarified their concerns, and we believe the clarifications once conveyed will be satisfactory to address the concerns of the companies."

On being liable for others' posts, he said the rules are about content that is produced by the news sites themselves. "There is no issue about third-party content," he added.

As for the 24-hour requirement, Mr Kam disclosed that when the Government asked Google to take down the Innocence Of Muslims video last year, it had informed the company "quite a few days" earlier about its concerns before it issued a formal notice to the company to do so.

On whether this would be the standard practice in future for licensed news sites, Mr Kam said it would depend on the nature of the offensive content.

"If it's something that's already spreading alarm and causing people to react in a very negative or adverse way, or causing harm, then obviously we will have to work quickly," he said.

If a licensee refuses to take down content, it may not necessarily result in an immediate suspension of its, he added.

He said that in other categories of licences, "the number of times a Singapore government agency has gone straight to suspend the licence, it's very rare... it's a last resort".

He added: "But it also depends on the situation at hand, how serious it is."