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CPJ Statement on TRS


mda yaacob ibrahim
The Committee to Protect Journalists  issued a statement on May 05th 2015 on  the closing down of alternative news website The Real Singapore calling it censorship and harassment. The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and the South East Asia branch is based in Bangkok.
You can find their website here :  https://cpj.org/ and read the whole article : https://cpj.org/2015/05/singaporean-authorities-shut-down-the-real-singapo.php. In a world where journalists are  imprisoned, gunned down or even hacked to death by machete, the repressions on Press Freedom in Singapore tend to be overlooked so it is good to see that CPJ is condemning the repression. According to CPJ research The Real Singapore is the first news website to be shut down under Singapore’s licensing regulations, introduced in 2013. It goes on to say
that The Media Development Authority, revoked the operating license of The Real Singapore for publishing content it said undermined “the public interest, public order, and national harmony,”
MDA ordered the website’s editors to shut down its online and social media platforms by 8 p.m. on Sunday or face fines or imprisonment,and CPJ reports that the site’s editors complied with the order.
Screenshot 2015-05-05 21.31.30

The reasons given by MDA  for the closure were that the site had “deliberately fabricated articles” and “sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore,” The offending articles were deemed to have ” stoked hostility between ethnic groups”.  CPJ also explains in its Press release that the site violated local regulations, including the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and Broadcasting Act, which bars foreign ownership of registered news websites

Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative said Singapore’s  licensing system for online news services was designed from the start for this type of censorship and harassment,”  and continued “We call on the Media Development Authority to repeal its suspension order of The Real Singapore, drop all of the charges against its editors, and allow the website to continue its journalistic work free of threats or reprisal.”

The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and Broadcasting Act.
CPJ reported that Singaporean bloggers have said that the requirements aim to bring online media under the same restrictions that stifle the country’s mainstream print and broadcast media. However  I think they may have the wrong end of the stick about exactly how the mainstream media is controlled here. Many of you may know by now that I am in favour of dismantling the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and Broadcasting Act. This Act also gives management control to the PAP through shares and editorial control through rights granted to the government to appoint the editors and directors. This is without mentioning Temasek which has 100 % ownership of MediCcorp. It is this direct financial and management control that stifles mainstream print media and controls all the output.

MDA
In June 2013, Singapore introduced new regulations for all websites that report on local news and receive more than 50,000 unique visitors with IP addresses in Singapore for two consecutive months. These websites are gazetted and required to pay a Singaporean $50,000 (about US$37,500) bond and remove any “prohibited content,” including news deemed detrimental to public interest, within 24 hours of being contacted by the MDA..As we see with TOC,  gazetting controls the new media sites and if that doesn’t work (because the blog is too small to be gazetted)  then individual bloggers can be sued for defamation even just for comments left on their blogs and even teen bloggers can be tried and put in jail, on remand  for “offending Christians”.

 What will happen next? 
The editors of TRS,  Yang Kaiheng,and  Ai Takagi, have to provide information about the website’s operations and finances to authorities by May 11 and if they fail to comply  they face fines of up to Singaporean $200,000 (about US$150,000) and a maximum three years in prison. CPJ’s spokesperson said, ” It was not immediately clear if the site’s editors intended to challenge the shutdown order with the Communications and Information Ministry, the only means of appeal allowed under Singaporean law.”  However the charges against the pair also include sedition and other criminal charges in connection with the editors’ alleged failure to produce documents as requested by police.

The next court date is scheduled for May 18 and Yang has been allowed to post bail on Monday to travel to Australia to visit a sick relative on condition that he return by May 17.

Are there any dissident voices left?
CPJ states that Independent bloggers campaigning for online freedoms and against the licensing system have expressed concern that the closure of The Real Singapore will engender more self-censorship among citizen journalists, particularly when linking to articles about class or race. I am in no doubt that self censorship will follow although with this latest coming hot on the heels of the abominable treatment of teen blogger Amos Yee, Singaporeans may have reached a tipping point where the denial of their basic freedoms is concerned.  In order not to let self censorship stifle us completely, I will be writing on ethnic hostilities and so forth in my next blog. I have some interesting examples of stories on non Establishment figures that  media in Singapore have deliberately fabricated articles on and examples of establishment figures who have stoked hostility between ethnic groups. Please feel free to write in with your own examples.

KJ

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