Bloggers muzzled in Singapore elections
Government prefers 'orderly debate' to 'online chaos'
Simon Burns in Taipei, vnunet.com 04 Apr 2006
Politically themed podcasts will be temporarily banned during forthcoming elections in Singapore, a government minister said yesterday.
Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Singapore's information and communications minister, argued that free-for-all debate could "confuse and mislead the public" and insisted that politically themed blogs must be registered with the government.
Dr Balaji made the comments to clarify existing regulations in response to a question tabled by a fellow ruling party member during a parliamentary session. His comments were later posted on his ministry's website.
"In a free-for-all internet environment where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public, " he stated.
"Private or individual bloggers can discuss politics. However, if they persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore, they are required to register with the Media Development Authority.
"During the election period, these registered persons will not be permitted to provide material online that constitutes election advertising."
Singaporean law limits the promotion of political parties and viewpoints during elections.
While Dr Balaji acknowledged that some podcasts could be "quite entertaining ", he warned that the "streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations".
In addition to podcasts, Dr Balaji said that all streaming online audio and video of a political nature would not be allowed.
"We recognise that people in our society will have their diverse opinions and some will want to share their opinions. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the internet to manipulate public opinion," Dr Balaji stated.
Singapore is a parliamentary democracy with a population of 4.5 million and has been dominated by the same political party for more than 40 years.
While the island's government has been lauded for providing a high standard of living despite very limited natural resources, it has been criticised, both overseas and at home, for perceived restrictions on human rights.
Government ministers occasionally sue opposition politicians and other critics for defamation.
While a date for Singapore's next parliamentary elections, due by mid-2007, has not yet been set, media reports suggest that the government is most likely to call them during the next few months.
Do you think that Malaysia will soon follow suit? If Malaysia implements a law such as Singapore's, those of us who love to comment on political issues and politicians, would have to submit to a database! Who is to say which individual's political discussion is ok and which is not? I don't see how the authorities in Singapore can police political blogs, and how they can make people register with their Media Development Authority.
I also don't see how Singaporeans who are well educated can easily be confused and misled by so called "rumours and distortions". A little heated debate is always good; the government will have to defend and clarify any of their policies to the public, unless of course if there are truths in the so called rumours, then of course the government would rather not have the people know about them!