Was the Breakfast Network banned by the MDA?

The Asia Sentinel recently published an article on 12 Dec 2013, which claims that the Breakfast Network was banned by the MDA. However, this claim is erroneous...


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The Asia Sentinel recently published an article on 12 Dec 2013, which claims that the Breakfast Network was banned by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA). However, this claim is erroneous. Let's look at some of the claims:

Claim #1: "Singapore's Media Development Agency has shut down its first Internet site, an innocuous fledgling called the Breakfast Network that was run by Bertha Henson, a former journalist with Singapore Press Holdings who now is a journalist in residence at a local college while acting as a media consultant."

This is false.

The Breakfast Network shut down because its editor and owner chose not to register, which means that it would not be making the necessary declarations that it would not receive foreign funding, as required by MDA. MDA therefore informed the company that it should cease to operate its online services.

The Breakfast Network was asked to register because it had ceased to be a personal blog or website, but had incorporated itself as the Breakfast Network Pte Ltd. As a corporate entity, Breakfast Network Pte Ltd had a greater possibility of coming under foreign influence via foreign funding. This registration requirement was simply to ensure that Breakfast Network would not receive foreign funding.

Claim #2: “The action was taken under media guidelines published in May that required all Internet sites to register with the government if they have 50,000 unique visitors a month. They must put up S$50,000 bond if they report more than one article a week on Singapore-related news over a period of two months. If the government objects to an article, it must be taken down within 24 hours.”

The Independent had on 18 Dec, published a letter from Maruah which questioned the inconsistency of MDA's measures to prevent foreign influence in local media; "The application of MDA's policy to prevent foreign influence in the media is also inconsistent, given Yahoo! is US-owned and it is individually licensed."

Yahoo! and Breakfast Network come under different requirements. Unlike Yahoo!, the Breakfast Network was never required to obtain a licence under the Online News Licensing Scheme, which was introduced in June 2013. MDA simply required Breakfast Network to register under the Class Licence Framework.  This registration requirement of Breakfast Nework is not the same as MDA's Online News Licensing Scheme.

For Class Licence Framework:

There are two categories of class licence - Automatic, and via Registration. Breakfast Network was already automatically class licensed. But since Breakfast Network is a political website operated by corporate entity and therefore susceptible to foreign funding, MDA required it to register and to undertake not to receive foreign funding.

For Online News Licensing Scheme

This scheme requires that news sites which report regularly on Singapore’s news and current affairs and have high reach, be individually licensed. The two key conditions of the individual license, are that a S$50,000 bond must be put up, and a site is expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of Singapore’s content standards.

The Online Citizen (TOC) had on 12 Dec 2013, published a commentary on the registration of the Breakfast Network, which have put forth certain claims that were untrue as well.

Claim #3: “It (MDA) apparently has come up with a rather onerous set of forms which websites who are asked to register must fill up. And according to Breakfast Network, the numerous registration forms it was required to submit to the MDA were different from the ones posted on the MDA’s own website.” TOC also quoted several claims made in TechinAsia’s article i.e. :

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Breakfast Network claimed the requirements were onerous, citing the need to register volunteer contributors. MDA issued a statement on 13 Dec 2013, clarifying that at no point was Breakfast Nework told that contributors also need to register. They were only told that editors, including pro bono editors, had to register. As for the reporting of revenue sources, MDA informed Breakfast Network that they could suggest alternative ways of providing the required information.

Secondly, nothing has changed for Internet Content Providers. They continue to operate and publish under the existing class licence framework which has been in place since 1996. Under this framework, certain groups such as political associations and political websites have always been required to register with MDA, and fill up the form which is on MDA's website.

However, up until now, the registration requirement did not come with an undertaking not to receive foreign funds. This is because up until now, the political websites which had to register were also gazetted as political associations, which meant that they were already prohibited from receiving foreign funds under the Political Donations Act. As pointed out in the article, The Online Citizen (TOC) was gazetted as a political association under the Political Donations Act. This means that TOC would become subject to restrictions on foreign funding as stipulated in the Political Donations Act.

The registration form provided to The Independent and Breakfast Network was different from that provided to TOC, because The Independent & Breakfast Network have not been gazetted as political associations. MDA is also allowing them to receive bona fide commercial revenues from foreign sources. The declarations and the form were adapted to meet these requirements. The Independent completed these registration documents. The Breakfast Network decided not to.

Sources

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