There I was, a parliamentary noob, (unless you count TV), watching from the public gallery with interest as a series of questions was put to Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim about the controversial and, honestly, horrendously thought-out licensing scheme for “news websites” in Singapore.
To begin with, all internet content providers (anyone with a web page, or even a Facebook page) are automatically under a class license. The new individual licensing only differs in TWO aspects – a $50,000 performance bond and a 24-hour takedown rule. Dr Yaacob managed to make an even greater mockery out of the new licensing scheme by saying in parliament that the $50,000 bond is negotiable and flexible… and so is the 24-hour takedown rule.
Seriously, if a new licensing regime is so ineffective and vague, why implement it in the first place? What does the new scheme offer that the old one does not? Dr Yaacob’s answer to that (repeated to death in and out of parliament) – “higher standards” for online reporting. Parity.
Dr Yaacob did, however, categorically state that the state ownership rule will not be applied to online news websites. Cheers to that, but it also makes the “parity” argument go down the drain.
I’m all for higher standards of online reporting. I’m all for silencing untruths. If this licensing scheme could achieve these objectives without a major fallout, I’d throw my weight behind it. But it does not.
Sir, do you not realise that NOTHING in the licensing effectively makes anyone or any news entity any more responsible, any more beholden to the truth, any more on par with our print media (not that THAT would necessarily be desirable either)? The licensing scheme is a dream, the muddled and fantastical origins and objectives of which are so bizarre that I cannot even begin to fathom what was going on in someone’s mind when they thought it up. Is there a secret (and legal) supply of mind-altering drugs somewhere that might help me?
That the minister was repeating himself over and over (and never really answering the real questions) was a clear sign to me that he hoped to barrel through the whole thing by fiat. Google and other industry players worried? No, no, no. Everything is fine. Free My Internet group raises some questions? No, no, no. Everything is fine. NCMP Lina Chiam raises some excellent questions? No, no, no. Everything is fine. Netizens in an uproar? No, no, no. Everything is fine.
NCMP Lina Chiam, on the other hand, delivered a succinct adjournment motion, in spite of her slightly unsteady speech. I suspect some in the room might have been tittering at how she stumbled over her words, but it is substance that matters and she had plenty where Dr Yaacob was forced to regurgitate his old, decimated defences for the scheme.