Letter to ST Forum – Registration requirements can have a chilling effect on free expression

This letter was sent to ST Forum on 12 December 2013, but was not published.

To:
The Editor
Forum Page
The Straits Times

Dear Sir

MARUAH is deeply concerned at the closure of Breakfast Network’s website as a result of their decision not to submit the registration forms required by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

MDA had, in a statement to The Independent published on Dec 4 2013, responded to MARUAH’s earlier statement about MDA’s move to require Breakfast Network and The Independent to register, as well as the pending contempt of court charge against Mr Alex Au. In that response, MDA stated that foreign entities may not be allowed to control local media platforms; registration does not “seek to affect what The Independent and Breakfast Network can publish on their site”, similar to how MARUAH — who have also registered with MDA as a political website — has been able to freely comment on issues and policies; and registration does not prevent the two sites from receiving “bona fide commercial revenue, foreign advertisers included” and does not require the two sites to “provide detailed information of their subscriber base”.

The closure of Breakfast Network’s website demonstrates that regardless of MDA’s stated intent, the registration requirement has chilled and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore. As a regulator tasked with developing the media landscape in Singapore, MDA should consider the substantive impact of its decisions, not just its own subjective intent. Registration requirements can operate to censor free expression as effectively as, and more insidiously than, outright demands to remove content.

The forms published by Breakfast Network also show that MDA has asked them, if not The Independent, to identify every person who has provided funding to them, as well as every subscriber and advertiser who contributes 5% or more of their subscription or advertising revenue. As we stated previously, these requirements, in particular the former, are overly-intrusive and go far beyond what is necessary to satisfy the stated objective of preventing foreign influence over the media. Even the Political Donations Act, under which MARUAH has been gazetted as a political association and which also regulates political parties, does not require every person who has provided funding to be specifically identified.

Finally, MDA’s statement raises questions about its inconsistent application of policy on foreign entities in local media, given that Yahoo! Singapore, which is individually licensed by MDA, is a US-owned operation.

We again call on MDA to reverse its actions against Breakfast Network and The Independent. A thriving online media environment benefits Singapore and Singaporeans, and those actions are clearly regressive moves.

Braema Mathi (Ms)
President
MARUAH, Singapore

One Response to Letter to ST Forum – Registration requirements can have a chilling effect on free expression

  1. […] Braema Mathi of the human rights group Maruah is worried that the “registration requirement has chilled and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore.” She urged the MDA to “consider the […]

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