Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bloggers hold public forum on Internet freedom and regulation


Adapted and Modified from a Straits Times Article dated 22 June 2008.

The group of 13 bloggers who submitted a paper to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore” earlier this year held a public forum on Saturday 21 June to present their views. The forum was organised by the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

The paper submitted to the Ministry proposes ways of addressing the defects in current laws and regulations with respect to 3 main areas: (a) political expression, (b) racial/religious hate speech and (c) sex & violence.

The bloggers want, amongst other things, a guarantee of freedom to use the Internet to discuss political issues and promote political views.

The bloggers also propose setting up an Internet Content Consultative Committee (IC3) comprising one-third independent content providers, one-third persons familiar with rapidly evolving digital technologies, and one-third regular consumers of Internet content (i.e. regular surfers). The IC3 would issue recommendations whenever controversies arise regarding digital content, for example offering its view when conflicts arise between the state and content providers alleged to have behaved irresponsibly.

This particular issue on who should compose the IC3 attracted a lot of attention at the forum on Saturday.

A prevailing view among the discussion panellists was that the Government should not have a hand in it.

“There is merit in civil society doing it on its own … There’s no need to depend on the Government to regulate social values,” said media academic Cherian George.

A member of the audience, Mr Cheong Yip Seng, chairman of the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, wanted to know if members’ views would carry enough weight.

Mr Arun Mahizhnan, deputy director of the Institute of Policy Studies, who is not part of the group of bloggers, believed civil society can do the job on its own. Citing the Nature Society (Singapore) as a successful example that was not government-appointed, he said it has earned the moral authority to speak on environmental issues over time.

But Mr Alex Au, who writes the Yawning Bread blog, had a different take. He reckoned that in Singapore, the Government - which tends to initiate things - could take the first step in appointing members to this consultative body. (SG POLITICS EDITOR’S COMMENT: Of course, I disagree wholeheartedly with Alex Au. If the Government was allowed to appoint the initial members of this consultative body, it would practically be a blank check for them to later co-opt the entire group into their fold.)

Yesterday’s forum also discussed the bloggers’ proposal to scrap laws against offending racial and religious feelings, or promoting hatred against a racial or religious group. They had argued that such acts would not immediately threaten the community, compared to acts that incite violence on racial and religious grounds.

But there was a dissenting voice among the bloggers. Graduate student Ng E-Jay, who blogs on, is against repealing the laws. He said, “It’s a bit too optimistic to think that such hate speech targeted at race and religion would spread slowly.”


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