Till now, MDA has not provided Singaporeans with a proper explanation for banning The Real Singapore (TRS). Yaacob Ibrahim claims that they have all the evidence but he still hasn’t revealed this evidence to Singaporeans. Unfortunately for Singaporeans, MDA is not required by law to even do something as simple as that.
The problem comes down to the Broadcasting Act and the unlimited powers it confers on the MDA. In 2013, the Broadcasting Act was amended so that the MDA can ban any website for any reason. How this works is a little complicated. Basically all websites have a Class License by default. This allows them to operate freely. In 2013, MDA was given the power to suspend a website’s license and impose any conditions it wants on the website under a new license.
Under Section 8(2) of the Broadcasting Act, “Every broadcasting licence, other than a class licence, granted by the Authority shall be in such form and for such period and may contain such terms and conditions as the Authority may determine.”
Basically this means the licence must simply be in ‘x’ form, for ‘y’ period and contain ‘w’ terms, where x, y and w will be determined by MDA.
As Dr. Swaminathan explains on his blog, Article 14, this means that the Government can do whatever it wants. He calls this “a provision so broad that it has authorised lawlessness.” Instead of checking the power of the executive, this law gives it virtually unlimited power.
With the banning of TRS, it becomes clear that the Broadcasting Act can be used by the Government arbitrarily. It may be true that TRS should be banned. However, the problem here is that there is no due process. Even if TRS wants to appeal the decision, the law is so broad that there is really nothing TRS can that will challenge the decision.
This is a big problem for us.
To quote Dr. Swaminathan, “For Parliament to make a law stating that the Executive arm of government may do as it pleases is as good as signing off on a blank cheque. The Broadcasting Act is MDA’s blank cheque. It is the hallmark of the rule of law that a government must be subject to and act in accordance with the law. But, the Broadcasting Act makes a mockery of this principle. MDA can easily impose any kind of licensing conditions and still claim that it is acting in accordance with the law. A law that facilitates absolute discretion is only a law in form. It fails to fulfill its true role in restraining the arbitrary exercise of power.
“In a kingdom, when a king wields absolute power and is not restrained in any way by the law we say that the king is the law, meaning that there is no rule of law in such a state. What if the king decides to subject himself to the law and he forms a Parliament that would make the law and that Parliament makes a law stating that the King may do as he pleases? Would we say that there is the rule of law in such a state? We wouldn’t.
“The Broadcasting Act must not facilitate discretion and the arbitrary exercise of power. It must restrict the MDA’s power.“