TRS BAN REFLECTS MDA’S LIGHT TOUCH FOR INTERNET CONTENT

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) decision to act against The Real Singapore reflects the light touch it has pledged towards content regulation, said media observers and academics TODAY spoke to.

Until the “extreme” case of The Real Singapore came along, the authorities had previously not moved to shut down a website using the Broadcasting Act, which the Internet Code of Practice comes under, they noted.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, said the MDA move helped shed some light on how the Internet Code of Practice, which took effect in 1997, can be used.

“The implementation at this stage … is light-handed and used in a fairly extreme case. It’s not just any case that comes along, but one that has public sentiment against it and a court case,” said Prof Ang, noting that there was a petition to shut down the website a year ago.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said: “This is the first time that MDA has resorted to suspension, but when you put it against the backdrop of TRS’ alleged egregious conduct, it becomes more of a question of when (to suspend), rather than whether.”

The editors of the The Real Singapore appeared to have been testing the limits of the media regulator, said Associate Professor Tan, adding that the MDA has demonstrated their resolve to tackle recalcitrant sites and deter potential copycats.

He also said: “We must be mindful of the rapid and widespread reach that social media sites have. Ultimately, it’s Singaporeans who bear the consequences of their falsehoods.”

Political observer and former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Zulkifli Baharudin felt that rules guiding traditional media should apply to new media as well. “People think because they’re from the Internet, we should not be too harsh to them, and we should expect a certain level of inaccuracies. I don’t buy that,” he said. “Whether you’re a website or not, you have the responsibility — like any other media — to present honest, factual reporting of events.”

However, Assoc Prof Tan pointed out that similar sites could easily be set up outside the MDA’s jurisdiction. Hence, netizens must be media literate and verify online content before spreading it, he said. Commenting on the possibility of copycat sites, former NMP Calvin Cheng said anonymity on the Internet is not a guarantee.

“At the end of the day, nobody is truly anonymous on the Internet. If they break severe enough laws, wherever they are they can be hunted down and international arrest warrants issued,” said Mr Cheng, a member of the Media Literacy Council.

Socio-political websites that operate within Singapore’s laws and social norms have nothing to fear, he added.

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