Rules for online news sites a refinement and not a major shift: Yaacob

The new rules for online news sites mark a refinement and not a major shift in content standards, said Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

This was why the Government decided to hold consultations with the 10 news sites that would come under the regime rather than the wider Internet community. It does not believe that the new regulations will have an impact on the overwhelming majority of Internet content providers, he told Parliament yesterday.

It is now in talks with the 10 websites that will come under the new framework. The process started in May, and it will take two to three months more to work out the details of the licensing conditions.

Dr Yaacob added that the Government will nonetheless continue to engage stakeholders to allay any concerns they may have. He was responding to queries from members of both the opposition and the ruling party on the rolling out of the regulation, including its prior consultation process.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong felt that the rules, which came into effect on June 1 - three days after they were first announced - seemed to have been unveiled in a rush.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, who filed an adjournment motion on the topic, said that they "were dropped like a bomb" on the public.

Dr Yaacob noted in his reply that since 1996, most websites have come under the class licence scheme which has rules spelling out prohibited content, such as content that infringes on public decency or public harmony.

Now, the Government wants news websites to have individual licences, so that they are placed on a "more consistent regulatory basis" with traditional news outlets such as newspapers, which must obtain individual licences too.

Websites with individual licences must comply with two additional requirements: a 24-hour window to take down offensive content when directed by the Government, and they must put up a $50,000 performance bond.

The new rules are needed, he noted, because of media convergence where news is now published online besides in print and broadcast. Furthermore, "eyeballs are shifting" as more Singaporeans get their information from the Internet.

Hence, as online sites become a more significant source of news, the Government felt that the regulatory framework has to evolve as well to keep pace, "rather than wait and react", he said.

"I think we need to put the framework in place, learn as we go along, because there may be a proliferation of sites in the future," said Dr Yaacob.

twong@sph.com.sg