Yahoo Singapore to comply with new licence rules

This will help its staff gain full govt accreditation, access to more events

Yahoo Singapore indicated yesterday that it will comply with a controversial licensing framework for online news sites, though it does not deem the new rules necessary.

In a note put up on its site, country manager and Yahoo South-east Asia managing editor Alan Soon said that agreeing to be licensed would pave the way for his staff to gain full government accreditation and access to more events.

Unlike reporters from mainstream media outlets, those from Yahoo are not issued media passes by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), do not receive official press statements and are not invited to government press conferences.

Yahoo is the only site, out of the list of 10 that have been identified for licensing so far, that is not run by a traditional media outlet.

Of the rest, seven are owned by Singapore Press Holdings, including the news site for The Straits Times, and two by MediaCorp.

Asked if a bargain had been struck and if Yahoo will be accredited in return for agreeing to be licensed, an MCI spokesman would say only that accreditation approval is based on an application's merits and on a case-by-case basis.

The licensing framework specifies a 24-hour timeframe within which holders must remove prohibited content or readers' comments relating to issues such as pornography or hate speech, when notified to do so.

They must also post a $50,000 performance bond, pegged to that required for niche television broadcasters.

Mr Soon said that the licensing restrictions around hate speech were in line with Yahoo's views, citing a campaign that the portal launched last year to promote a message of tolerance.

He acknowledged that while the Web offers an opportunity for open and constructive debate, discussions can "easily spiral into a downward circle of anger and hatred, often targeting people of specific nationalities, religions and sexual preferences".

Still, it was important that regulations remain meaningful and do not become a tool that restricts freedom of expression and genuine debate, he said.

The Government has said that the ruling is to give parity to the frameworks governing traditional and online news sources, and ensure that people are accountable for their actions online as they are in the physical world.

Before the ruling went into effect last Saturday, Yahoo fell under an automatic class licence scheme applying to most sites.

Mr Soon said it was thus already subject to the Internet Code of Practice, which forbids the broadcast of content that goes against public morality or the public interest.

Further regulation was redundant, he said.

"And as the past few days have shown, (the new licence) creates confusion and unsettles both users as well as the media industry that Singapore has tried so hard to cultivate," he said.

He said the new ruling is no different from a global trend towards "greater regulatory scrutiny of the Internet as governments try to extract accountability from Internet users and website operators".

But he stressed that Yahoo is committed to protecting and promoting free expression.

He said: "We live in a world where millions of people benefit from open discussions, lively commentary and a robust exchange of ideas, all thanks to the Internet. We believe that societies thrive when people are free to express themselves."

limze@sph.com.sg