Speaking on the sidelines at a Mendaki event today (10 May), the Communications and Information Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said that MDA “did the right thing” to shut down The Real Singapore (TRS) website.
He said the government “is not against the internet”, but it is important to preserve racial and religious harmony.
Dr Yaacob said, “Since 1996, we’ve only had 27 interventions. We have never shut down a site. We do this very, very carefully but once you cross the line, and in this case, they have, and we have enough evidence to show that all the materials are very egregious and can cause a lot of racial unhappiness, we have to move. I am confident that MDA has done the right thing.”
“It is aboveboard, you can see all the evidence we have put forward in terms of the materials in which they have published,” he added.
“At the end of the day, I think the most important thing for us is to preserve the racial and religious harmony that we have in Singapore”.
Dr Yaacob also said that they will continue to investigate the other “clone sites” that have been set up since TRS went offline.
MDA’s draconian measures not the best way to engage online sites
Meanwhile, Singapore human rights group MARUAH has issued a statement highlighting its concerns about MDA’s actions.
MARUAH said that MDA should have identified to TRS the specific content that was objectionable and gave them the right to justify why a shut down was not warranted, and for MDA to clearly justify its position.
“The suspension of The Real Singapore’s licence to operate raises important issues on the freedom of speech,” it said.
“Much of the content of The Real Singapore goes against what we have championed, namely equality and non-discrimination. The Real Singapore’s sensational journalism and encouragement of xenophobia against foreign workers do, indeed, have to be tackled.”
“However, the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) draconian measures are not the best way to do so, as they legitimise excessive intervention by the state and set a precedent for the diminution of our online space,” it added.
MARUAH suggested that MDA, at a minimum, should notify TRS of the specific items of content that the MDA believes to be unlawful, give them a reasonable opportunity to show why the site should not be ordered shut, and provide clear and detailed written grounds for its decision.
MARUAH also recommended that government officials openly and publicly engage bloggers and newsmakers on an ongoing basis, to develop a better understanding of each other and to enable the Government to respond to inaccuracies and falsehoods in a more timely and effective manner.
“The diversity of Singapore’s populace is reflected in the diversity of opinions online,” MARUAH noted. “Censoring an entire platform without due process does Singapore and Singaporeans no favours, however much we may dislike its approach or the things it publishes.”
MSM sites have also fabricated content
The FreeMyInternet (FMI) group, which TRE is a member, also expresses disappointment at MDA’s action against TRS (‘FreeMyInternet’s position on MDA’s censorship of TRS‘). FMI calls for MDA to come clean on its processes and standards as a regulatory body.
“While not all of us might necessarily agree with TRS’s editorial direction or content, what TRS is alleged to have done is no reason for MDA to force a shutdown on the site,” FMI said.
MDA’s actions exhibited two key problems:
Disproportionate power vested in a statutory board, and
unclear guidelines on actions to be taken against objectionable content
“The unfettered power given to MDA is disproportionate in that it gives a statutory board the the sole discretion to close down a website without due process, judiciary or otherwise. This is inconsistent with Singapore’s position as a state that is ruled by law, transparency and accountability,” FMI said.
FMI noted that websites managed by traditional news outlets have also been known to have fabricated content (see: It is time to shut down STOMP for good). It asked if MDA intends to take any actions against those MSM sites too.
In the case of TRS, it asked if it would have been suffice for MDA to request the removal of specific articles rather than the termination of an entire website.
“Without such clarity and accountability, we are left with no choice but to once again call doubt on MDA’s ability to be a fair and effective media regulator. The unsubstantiated and extraordinary actions taken by MDA against TRS cannot be seen as rules-based, transparent, and fair; only arbitrary and selective. As it is, we can only view MDA’s action against TRS as nothing short of a poorly-conceived and brutal attempt at censorship,” FMI added.
“Shutting anyone down for disagreeable content, by anyone’s standard much less that of a regulator that has been inconsistent in its standards, is a trigger happy approach that reeks of blatant censorship and does not speak well of Singapore as a democratic country.”