This briefcase may be all you need to spell trouble // Photo by Irish Typepad
Anggra tipped me off to what I see as one of the most recent eye-raising measures against the use of new technologies on the Internet during hustings in Singapore. Channel NewsAsia reported from a Parliamentary hearing on Monday that “Podcasting is not allowed during elections“. As misleading as that may sound, it actually applies to anyone podcasting openly political content during the local elections. Here is the report reproduced, followed by further thoughts on this:
Podcasting is not allowed during elections
By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia
03 April 2006 1806hrs (GMT +8hrs)
Podcasting will not be allowed during elections as it does not fall under the “positive list” which states what is allowed under election advertising.
Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan added that streaming of videos during campaigning would also be prohibited.
He was addressing a question in Parliament on Monday about the use of new technologies on the internet during hustings.
Pictures of candidates, party histories and manifestos are on the “positive list” and are allowed to be used as election advertising on the internet.
Newer internet tools like podcasting do not fall within this “positive list”.
Dr Balaji said: “There are also some well-known local blogs run by private individuals who have ventured into podcasting. The content of some of these podcasts can be quite entertaining. However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations. A similar prohibition would apply to the videocasting or video streaming of explicitly political content.”
The Parliamentary Election Act was amended in 2001 to allow political parties to advertise on the internet.
This was to ensure responsible use of the internet during campaigning as the free-for all environment of the internet is open to abuse.
Dr Balaji added that individual bloggers can discuss politics, but have to register with the Media Development Agency if they persistently promote political views.
When registered, they’re then not allowed to advertise during elections – something only political parties, candidates and election agents are allowed to do only.
Despite new internet technology, there’re no plans to change the law on campaigning on line during an election.
The government’s view is that people can have diverse views, but should not hide behind the anonymity of the internet, to manipulate public opinion.
Here are my further thoughts on this:
1. Who podcasts political content in Singapore?
Interestingly, the only political party so far to engaged in any form of podcasting is the Singapore Democratic Party with their endeavor, RadioSDP. Even though it’s not really a podcast (Chee: “Show me the RSS Feed!”), it does come close enough in terms of show format. In nine minutes, you’ll mostly hear interviews with various political dissidents. If you don’t wish to take a listen, check out reviews on The Legal Janitor and Atypical Singaporean. According to TodayOnline, Singapore’s first “political podcast” was a denunciation of the ruling party by SDP secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan. In addition, he said that the podcast was a way for SDP to “bypass the state-controlled media in Singapore”. Unfortunately for him, the Media Development Authority confirmed that podcasting does come under the current regulatory framework. MDA told Today that it is still studying developments in this area.
2. On the Ban Wagon: Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts
This podcasting ban comes after the previous regulation of political content published online. From Singabloodypore, I learned of Yawning Bread’s must-read article entitled Blogging During Elections. There you’ll find a rare glimpse of our government’s regulations on the Parliamentary Elections Act, specifically related to the blogging of political content and the ease at which uninitiated bloggers can be prosecuted in Singapore. Throughout this legal document, three words kept repeating: “No election advertising”.
3. How far do these content regulations go?
As with all online content regulation, there is always the question of how far it goes. The Yawning Bread tried to address this idea of “relevant persons” as mentioned in Singapore’s law books. Both the Parliamentary Elections Act and MDA’s Internet Policy Framework have different takes on who would fall under this restriction, which only serves to further the vague, sweeping nature of Singapore laws. For anyone who provides political commentary on the Web, does “provide” only mean writing or does it mean hosting as well? What if it’s a Singaporean living and hosting abroad?
4. Government discourages anonymity?
According to the same Channel NewsAsia report, the “government’s view is that people can have diverse views, but should not hide behind the anonymity of the internet, to manipulate public opinion.” This is a controversial issue since most opponents of online anonymity suggest that anonymity encourages illegal or dangerous activity (e.g. terrorism, sexual predators). However, the history of anonymous expression in political dissent is long and both honorable. In the tradition of anonymous British political criticism, the Federalist Papers were anonymously authored. Without the public discourse on the controversial contents of the U.S. Constitution, ratification would likely have taken much longer as individuals worked through the issues. While there is an intrinsic lack of control the government can have over the anonymous, perhaps the idea of anonymity leans more towards the western ideal that is freedom of expression. This might not appeal to the Singaporean government which subscribe to the so-called Asian Values (something which I plan to discuss in detail in future).
5. Why did this Channel NewsAsia report attach a photo of web surfers at an Internet cafe in Chengdu, China?
Perhaps CNA’s “tongue in cheek” way of portraying the state of media regulation in Singapore? Your guess is as good as mine. :P
If you have to take back one thing from here today, just remember this:
No Election Advertising!
UPDATE: Ironically, MrBrown & MrMiyagi noted how this week happens to be VideoBlogging Week 2006, so they’ll be doing a videocast everyday from April 3rd to 9th. I think it’s ok lah, as long as no one talks about our Gahmen!
UPDATE 2: This blog post is now featured on TODAY