Political podcasting banned during Singapore elections

podcasting briefcase
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

  • http://atypicalsingaporean.blogspot.com Merv

    The minister said “However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited”

    Podcasting not streaming leh, its downloading.

    So its allowed, as long no streaming?

  • http://deadpoetscave.com/ acroamatic

    I don’t think most people are savvy enough to know the difference. Everyone’s heard of podcasting. Raise your hands those who subscribe to at least one podcast feed.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Merv + Acroamatic: Podcasting and blogging are still things that most people don’t have a clear understanding of. Regardless of this, the same line is still drawn under Singapore’s vague and sweeping laws. :(

  • http://www.stair-of-juno.blogspot.com/ Fuji

    RIDICULOUS!

    “Oops .. Am I allowed to say that?”

  • *yawn*

    banned? no, not if they are podcasts on PAP’s latest candidates avaiable at the Straits Times’ website..

  • Another Kevin

    It’s an archaic throwback.I’m afraid to say it’s a battle for one kind of society over the other.

    What kind of Singapore do you want for your kids? Ask the populace. Many don’t even know, or perhaps they have a stylised vision, but do not have the gumpt to bring it to fruition.

    It’s sad.And not only that, it’s amusing to think that the Ministry is trying to put an extra-territorial slant on this.However, I don’t suppose the man-in-the-street who is trying to put bread on the table cares. You’ve got to reach him in his lingo, in his concerns, then he will listen.

    Cheers.

  • morally_bankrupt_PAP

    This is a laughing stock. Don’t just sit there. Help out the AP in whatever ways.

    Is this the country you want?
    Is this the country you want your children to grow up in?
    Do you want COST to continue increasing?
    Do you want more Progress Packages?

    Exercise your choice wisely.

    Those with a fire to serve, join the AP, you can change things sitting in the fence.

  • Poor Singaporean

    Our Gov said this election is very important to all Singaporean. I strongly agreed cos i m a
    Singaporean it concern me but Y ?? I m not given a fair chance to VOTE ??? Can’t for once the whole nation vote together be it PAP/SAP/WP or etc… Answer is “NO” again Y ??? Cos this is our GOV set and said. Here come the Question : DID U PICK THEM TO BE OUR GOV ? ? When I was born they are already the GOV, till today they are still our GOV but never once the GOV ask me, DO I WANT THEM TO BE OUR GOV !!! Be fair to all Singaporean if is so important the election let the whole nation vote…… What I want from my GOV is to show me all they know beside just leading and 1st GOV must open their ear to listen to me cos I m a Singaporean I have my right to pick my GOVERNMNENT.

    A word to the Government. What’s Election??? Do you understand??/ What’s walkover??// Do the resident agreed??// Why can’t you win by Glory a fair and saint competition!!!// Why always find bone in the eggs when there is opposite sit in???// What is this??? Aren’t we worst then a communist Country. We can’t Vote fairly, We can’t talk openly, We can’t have our own thinking, we are worst than a puppet.

    What’s going on ????

    Please Mr LKY, once and for all you are already 83yrs we don’t denied and never will we forget you and your contribution to the nation. Your effort is always appreciated and cannot be erase. But it is time you have to let go…. You are once our hero so be it stay as a hero don’t let the nation hate you and forget your contribution and goodness.

    And please don’t make Singapore a laughing butt to the World. I have been travelling around the world and the words I heard 15yrs before and now is totally different. How disappointed I am to say.

    15 years ago – ppl say ” Singapore is a clean and nice country. you have good government and system and most important a very good leader. What a great part of the world you are born in. Lucky you a Singaporean.

    But now what they say : –

    Oh you are from Singapore. What a pity, such a nice country but no human rights. You cannot have brain in Singapore or they will damn you in one way or another. You have to be a puppet for all your life like a slave. When your GOV say right turn you can’t go left. It is no longer a democracy world it is the LEE DYNASTY. You are living back to the Emperor times in the history of China.

    Please is time to let go. I Love My Country I Love Singapore but I am also sad to see our fellow mans with great value leaving our Country behind….

  • Zantheus

    The law of evolution states that an organism must change its form through random mutation after each generation in order to continuously survive within the ever changing environment.

    What the government must realize is that they are the ‘organism’ living in the ‘environment’ of society… and not vice versa.