What is the licensing framework for online news sites all about? 

News websites which report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach will be individually licensed. Currently all traditional news providers are individually licensed under the Broadcasting Act (TV broadcasters) and the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (newspapers) respectively. Licensing news providers on an individual basis helps to ensure that they are responsible and accountable for the content they put out, be it on television, print or online. 

So why introduce the new framework and what is the difference?

Governments around the world are thinking about how to deal with the regulatory challenges posed by changes to the media landscape. Technological advances have blurred the distinctions between traditional forms of media such as print, film and broadcast. But what has not changed is the role of news providers, and the public’s expectation that they report responsibly instead of operating contrary to the public interest. This concern is often addressed through some form of regulation or oversight. Changes in how news providers operate have necessitated discussions on how best to update these regulatory frameworks. The United Kingdom and New Zealand are examples of countries where such discussions are taking place. But each country’s situation is unique, and the solutions considered and adopted are thus different.

In Singapore, we are updating our regulatory framework in recognition of the changes to the media landscape. The new framework will bring greater parity to how we regulate news providers across different forms of media.

Internet content providers in Singapore are already automatically class-licensed under the Broadcasting Act. Class licensees are required to comply with the Class Licence conditions and the Internet Code of Practice, which are guidelines about what our community regards as offensive or harmful.  Content should not “go against public interest, public order, national harmony, and/or offends against good taste or decency”.  For instance, pornographic content, extremist messages and racially or religiously-insensitive content should not be put up on the Internet. So with this class licence already in place, there is a baseline standard of responsibility for what we publish online.

Since the Class Licence was introduced in 1996, MDA has asked websites to remove content that was in breach of content guidelines only 24 times. Only one instance was for content that was religiously-insensitive, and most other instances had to do with pornographic material or advertisements soliciting sex. There has not been an instance where MDA has directed sites to take down content that is critical of the Government or any Minister.

Under the new framework, online news sites will no longer be class licensed, but will be licensed on an individual basis. This helps to ensure that they are responsible for the content they provide to the public. But the Internet Code of Practice and content standards have not changed. You can find out more about the Internet Code of Practice here: http://www.mda.gov.sg/Documents/PDF/licences/mobj.981.Internet_Code_of_Practice.pdf

Who are affected by the new framework and what must they do to comply?

With the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) new licensing framework, online news sites will be shifted from the class licence to an individual licence, if they:

  1. report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore news and current affairs over a period of two months, and
  2. are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over the same period of two months

Personal blogs by their nature do not consistently provide “news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest”. Hence, MDA has explained that personal blogs will not be affected so long as they do not morph into news sites.

MDA has identified the following 10 sites as having met the criteria and will be working closely with the providers of these websites to bring them under the new licensing framework:

  1. asiaone.com
  2. businesstimes.com.sg
  3. channelnewsasia.com
  4. omy.sg
  5. sg.news.yahoo.com
  6. stomp.com.sg
  7. straitstimes.com
  8. tnp.sg
  9. todayonline.com
  10. zaobao.com

Licensed sites will need to:

  • Remove content which is in breach of content standards within 24 hours (under the existing Code, no time limit is specified)
  •  Post a performance bond of $50,000 (like all niche TV broadcasters are already required to do). This can be in the form of a bankers guarantee rather than an upfront cash payment.  MDA also said that it will consider exercising some flexibility if sites face difficulties posting the bond.

This article is accurate as of Jun 2013.

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