From light to lighter: Government signals direction of Net regulation



May 8th, 2008

With the government’s internet regulatory regime strained by new technologies, many among Singapore’s netizens expected that it would eventually tighten the rules. After all, how long could the authorities tolerate citizen’s wanton disregard for the OB markers in their use of the internet to distribute irreverent political commentary and even banned political films?

Even as they gleefully rushed through loopholes, socio-political bloggers were glancing nervously over their shoulders, half expecting Singapore’s regulators to catch up with them.

This week, the government gave its clearest indication yet that it is not considering any regressive steps in its internet regulation. In a response to policy proposals from a group of bloggers, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts says that it is studying how (not whether) to evolve its 12-year-old “light touch” principle into a “lighter touch” approach.

K Bhavani, press secretary to the minister, said:

“MICA is well aware of the fact that Internet and new media technology have evolved by leaps and bounds since we introduced our light-touch approach in 1996. Back then, MICA had recognised the potential growth and impact of the Internet, and the tremendous opportunities and benefits that it will bring to all of us. We were also wary of its negative aspects.

“Hence, our response to the Internet was to take a balanced light-touch approach. Our intent with this light-touch approach was to foster the growth of the Internet and to enable us to exploit its vast potential while safeguarding our society from its undesirable aspects. That 79% of our households subscribe to broadband and many Singaporeans, especially the younger citizens, own a blog or participate in some form of new media clearly show that the light-touch approach had not been without merit.

“To keep up with the fast-evolving new media landscape, we have been reviewing our light-touch approach and are considering how we could take a lighter touch approach. We have appointed the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) in April last year to study the new media and how best to refine our regulatory framework.”

The statement was sent to Alex Au and his “blogger friends”. The bloggers released the letter to the media. The Straits Times reported the development today.

Among other things, the bloggers (who include the editor of have called for an end to the ban on political films and registration of political sites. They also oppose the amount of arbitrary power in the hands of officials. They have suggested that more and more judgment calls be devolved to a non-governmental consultative body, weaning Singapore off its reliance on government to protect the public.

The ballad of Mr Brown

Mr Brown will celebrate his love for the government’s “lighter touch” on the Mr Brown Show on Monday morning, 12 May. Journalism.SG has promised not to give anything away, but we can say that it’s destined to be another instant classic.

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