geraldgiam.sg now mobile-enabled

For readers who surf on the move, I’m pleased to announce that my blog is now accessible from your mobile devices. Just go to http://geraldgiam.sg and you’ll be presented with a mobile-friendly page.

Credits to WordPress PDA & iPhone for creating this handy WordPress plugin. Any feedback on this is most welcome, particularly if you’re using an iPhone or Blackberry (since I’ve only tried it using my old Nokia phone and PDA).

Blogging and identity: To name or not to name?

I got into an interesting exchange with one of my readers in my last post, regarding whether Singapore bloggers should blog anonymously or use their real names.

The reader and fellow blogger thought I was criticising bloggers who don’t use their real names on their blogs, and argued that some bloggers (like himself/herself) choose to use a pseudonym, but not out of fear. I clarified that it is a blogger’s right to use a pseudonym, and that it’s better to use a pseudonym and speak out than to remain silent.

This issue surfaced recently after PM Lee and MCYS Minister Vivian Balakrishnan discussed social media issues in separate interviews recently.

PM gave an interview with CNA, where he said:

But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful. That is another range.

Separately, Dr Balakrishnan told a youth forum:

Anonymity in cyberspace is an illusion. You will remember in 2007, we prosecuted three persons under the Sedition Act because of the blogs they put up which denigrated the religion of one of our communities in Singapore.

I remember Straits Times did a two-page feature article on TOC on Oct 3 last year, and their headline was “The Online Citizen won’t play hide and speak”.

Implicit in all these words, was that bloggers who use their real names are more “credible” those who remain anonymous.

I’m not surprised that this would rile up many fellow bloggers, particularly those who blog with pseudonyms.

Lucky Tan gave this explanation for his anonymity:

for many bloggers, our anonymity is to keep our friends, parents and relatives from worrying and not for any other purpose.

Fair enough. I understand about parents and spouses worrying, because mine certainly do, and express their concern quite regularly. But friends and relatives too? I don’t think any of my friends worry for me that way, and neither do my relatives (few even know I blog).

I think if most of my fellow socio-political bloggers are like me, their main source of fear is not their parents, not relatives, not even the government, but their employers.

Yes that’s right. I think we fear our bosses more than the government. And here’s why:

The government, despite all its illiberal ways, usually does not persecute “lesser mortals” like you and me. Neither does it have a habit of gunning down opposition members who make no attempt to challenge their right to rule, at least not in recent times. The targets of their persecution are usually people associated with a particular opposition activist with a PhD. (I know if I go any further, I will be the target of criticism from his supporters, so I shall stop there.)

But many employers, like most Singaporeans of the older generation, don’t seem to know that – or perhaps they refuse to believe that. They think that anyone who criticises the government is sure to get hantam (beaten). I think this fear afflicts SME bosses the most, because they are afraid of losing out on government contracts if one of their employees criticises the government.

I have a friend who told me that at two different jobs, his bosses requested him to leave after they found out he was a political activist, even though they were satisfied with his work and he had done nothing illegal. Admittedly this was sometime back when people still viewed all oppositionists as troublemakers. Fortunately my employer is quite enlightened and hasn’t expressed any objection to my blogging activities. I hope they don’t. But if they do, and it’s a choice between keeping my blog and keeping my job during an economic downturn, I will probably have to make the pragmatic choice for the sake of my wife and four month old baby, since I’m a sole breadwinner.

So why do I still blog with my real name?

It is a decision I made when I first started blogging in June 2006, when I had just left my job in MFA. (The Singapore Civil Service permits officers to blog, but not about political matters.) Prior to that I had occasionally written to the Straits Times and TODAY forum pages, where it is a requirement to use one’s real name. So blogging was just a continuation of that. At that time, I was running my own business, so I had no bosses to worry about.

For me (so far) it has been the right choice. My blogging has opened up a whole new social circle for me that I never expected. I’ve met many fellow bloggers, readers, journalists, academics and political activists because of my blog. I don’t think I would have been contacted by, or ventured to contact, these people if I wasn’t using my real name.

A case in point: Almost all of the dozens of socio-political bloggers I’ve met in person are bloggers who use their real names (or at least don’t bother hiding their true identity, like mrbrown). I think I have yet to be acquainted with any blogger who keeps their identity secret – or at least I didn’t know they were bloggers when I met them. It’s not because I’m atas (stuck up) or anything. I just don’t get the opportunity to meet them at events and gatherings, possibly because they also don’t go to such public events in their capacity as bloggers. (I know at least one exception: Mr Wang Says So once spoke at a public forum, but he was still introduced as Mr Wang.)

So my take on blogging and identity is this: If you want to meet more interesting people in the real world, and your employer is not bothered by it, use your real name. If you’re happy keeping your online and offline life separate, then by all means, use a pseudonym. The issue is really not about “credibility” or lack thereof, in my opinion.


The PAP’s evolving new media strategy

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave an interview with Channel NewsAsia on the topic of new media that was aired yesterday. The report, titled “Government building capabilities to tap on new media at next GE”, said:

The Singapore government is set to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election due in 2012.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government is already building up some capabilities. But he added there is still a place for traditional media to be the trusted source of information.

After giving his strong endorsement to the government-controlled traditional media, he made mention of new media:

Mr Lee said: “Well, there is a place called the Wild West and there are other places which are not so wild. And the new media – some of it are Wild West and anything goes and people can say anything they want, and tomorrow take a completely contrary view. And well, that is just the way the medium is.

“But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful. That is another range.”

It is interesting how his public statements on new media have shifted from just over two years ago. Back in October 2006, in a speech at the Asian-European Editors’ Forum, PM Lee declared that while the traditional or mainstream media is “reliable, verified and insightful”, the new media is “full of clever propaganda, inflammatory opinions, half-truths and untruths” which are “not always easily countered by rational refutation or factual explanation”.

In response, I had written in a blogpost:

This belittlement of the new media is a government line which has been repeated so often that many Singaporeans have started believing and internalising it. Some journalists, in particular, love to cite this in their commentaries about the new media without substantiating it with evidence.

I’m sure he was fully aware even back then that there were “more considered” blogs where people put their names down and identify themselves (not that this in itself is a requirement for “credibility”).

So what is the difference between then and now?

Well back then, I think the PAP did not plan to use new media in a big way to win over the electorate. It didn’t see a need to since it had effective control over the mainstream media (it still does) and few Singaporeans were getting their news from the Internet (that number has grown, and it includes not just young people, but retirees as well). However, seeing the effects of new media on elections in the US and Malaysia probably got them thinking that perhaps the Internet could — or should — also be harnessed to win a few more votes. Hence the “liberalisation” of the new media and legalisation of some types of political films.

So now that the PAP is hopping onto the social media bandwagon, they probably realise they can’t afford to rubbish the entire platform as being “full of” half truths and untruths. Perhaps they are now employing a “divide and rule” strategy: continue to discredit the unruly sites, and make positive mention of the sites that they either control (like REACH) or they feel they can live with (like TOC?).

Netizens on the “Wild West” sites will then get all riled up and shift the focus of their criticisms away the PAP and start attacking the moderate sites as being government-aligned, or worse, part of the PAP’s Internet arm. Then all the PAP needs to do is stand back and watch while Netizens slug it out among themselves.

In the meantime, George Yeo and Teo Ser Luck will continue to collect more and more Facebook “friends”, and REACH will continue to draw more members who are sick of the petty mudslinging among bloggers.

It’s a clever strategy, don’t you think? Will bloggers fall for it?

Parliament debates HDB rental flats, upgrading, e-engagement and Gaza crisis

PARLIAMENT on Friday [6 Feb] debated the budgets of three ministries – Foreign Affairs, National Development, and Information, Communications and the Arts.

Ministry of National Development

Mr Low Thia Khiang (WP-Hougang) queried the Minister for National Development about the recent demolition of flats on Hougang Avenue 7. He lamented that the demolition took place just seven years after Hougang Town Council used its own funds to upgrade the lifts in those flats. (Hougang, being an opposition ward, is at end of the queue for the Lift Upgrading Programme [LUP]. The LUP expenses for PAP wards are typically borne by HDB with small co-payments by the local town council and residents.)

Mr Low remarked that much of the money was wasted because of the early demolition. He said that in future, HDB should inform the Town Council earlier of its redevelopment plans, lest such waste took place again.

In her initial response, Senior Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu, skimmed over the issue. Mr Low later pressed Ms Fu for an answer, adding that HDB ought to reimburse Hougang Town Council for the money that went to waste.

Ms Fu reiterated the Government’s earlier commitment to complete the LUP by 2014. Given the time needed to complete the works, HDB would have to make their selections and announcements of contractors by 2011.

Regarding the flat demolitions, the Senior Minister of State explained that HDB regularly reviews its land use, and that her Ministry “can’t tell seven years in advance” of redevelopment plans – “not even seven months”.Mr Masagos Zulkifli (PAP-Tampines) and Mdm Ho Geok Choo (PAP-West Coast) asked the Minister about the shortage of subsidised HDB rental flats for needy residents.

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan revealed that there were currently 4,550 applicants in the queue for subsidised rental flats. He said that “two-thirds of them have reasons not to be in the queue”. He cited examples of retirees who had no income but significant savings from the sale of their flats, yet qualified for rental flats. His ministry’s solution to this housing crunch would be to further tighten the eligibility criteria for rental flats.

Mdm Cynthia Phua (PAP-Aljunied) expressed dismay at this proposal, emphasising that in times of economic downturn, the Government “should have more love” instead of tightening the rental housing criteria for old folks. Mr Mah responded, saying that the purchase of a $90,000 two-room flat is “easily affordable” to someone earning $1,200. Continue reading “Parliament debates HDB rental flats, upgrading, e-engagement and Gaza crisis”

My response to RAdm Lui’s remarks about “self-regulation”

TODAY newspaper asked me for my views on Senior Minister of State for Information Lui Tuck Yew’s remarks about how the local online community has not “self-regulated” regarding the Seng Han Thong affair. Here are my responses, all of which did not get published.

1) What do you think of Mr Lui’s comments, especially his comments on how the online community should be more self-regulating?

I agree in principle, but self-regulation is not something that the Govt or individual bloggers can impose. It boils down to how individual Netizens wish to portray themselves to their readers.

2) How fair do you think Mr Lui’s comments are?

I think he made some sweeping generalisations. I personally responded to some unkind comments on one blog. The Online Citizen also ran an article criticizing some Netizens for their unkind remarks. This was not highlighted by Mr Lui.

It should be noted that many of the unkind comments were directed at the Govt, not Mr Seng personally. The criticism should therefore be seen in that context.

I think it’s appropriate to ask: What about those who are pro-govt or were indignant about the unkind criticism they read online? Why didn’t they step forward to comment or blog about it? They are also part of blogosphere and have a part to play in shaping the Net culture in Singapore.

3) What do you think we can do to improve the quality of online public discussion?

I think those bloggers with a higher readership can help shape the tone of discussion. It’s not to say that they should impose anything on fellow Netizens, but they could lead by example.

As more citizens from both sides of the political spectrum join blogosphere, I believe we will naturally see more balance.

Govt should not respond to only views it can control

The Voices Editor
TODAY newspaper

Dear Editor,

I refer to P N Balji’s commentary, “Why obsess about Govt response?” (TODAY, Jan 12).

Mr Balji suggested that I have a “fascination” and an “obsession” with government attention, when I argued that the Government should respond to online postings. He has misunderstood my comments.

This is what I wrote on The Online Citizen, where he had extracted my comments from:

The Government said that “it is not practical or feasible to respond to all blogs or forum postings”. No one is expecting the Government to respond to all blogs. But this should not prevent them from responding to some blogs, particularly those of serious socio-political bloggers who make cogent and rational suggestions in their posts.

It may be true that “not all bloggers welcomed the Government’s voice on their private blogs”, but there are some that do welcome a response.

I sense that the Government’s fear is that responding to a blog that is critical of the Government will lend the blog credibility, when it is more interested in discrediting opposing voices. Another fear is that a response will generate even more opposing views, which the Government may not have a response to. This may make the Government look bad.

My main point was that the Government should engage in debate about public policies not only on their own platforms, but also on other platforms where the discussion is ongoing. This was also the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS), which the Government rejected.

The Government should not only respond to views that it has control over, like those in the mainstream media and on their own feedback portal.

Furthermore, it makes sense to respond on the platform where the original comment was made in order to reach the right audience. Mr Balji’s article in TODAY about my online commentary is a case in point. He should have instead written his piece for The Online Citizen to put forward his views to bloggers, rather than to mainstream media readers.

I agree with Mr Balji that bloggers should not wait for the Government’s stamp of approval before making policy suggestions on their blogs. Most bloggers are already doing that. In fact some have taken it a step further. For example, The Online Citizen organised a talk at Speakers’ Corner last September to highlight our proposals to the Ministry of Transport for improving Singapore’s public transport system. (We have yet to receive the Ministry’s response.)

Sincerely,
Gerald Giam

Govt accepts 17 of AIMS’ 26 recommendations

The Singapore Government this morning responded to the recommendations submitted by the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS). It spelled out in its 18-page paper the reasons for accepting 17 of the 26 recommendations made by AIMS, and for rejecting the rest.

Summary of responses

The Government has agreed to rethink some of its current citizen engagement processes, like closing the feedback loop and replying to online letters in mainstream media websites. However it has declined to engage directly with bloggers on their turf, preferring to use its own portals like REACH (the Government feedback unit).

It has also declined to give more space for civil servants to voice their opinions.

On the Films Act, the Government has said it will liberalise it to allow political films which are “factual and objective, and do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture”. The Government will continue to disallow “dramatised, sensationalistic and emotive” political films. An independent advisory panel, headed by a retired judge, will decide the fate of all party political films.

The Government will retain Section 35, which gives the Minister the discretion to ban any film, and has rejected AIMS recommendation for the Minister to spell out his reasons for doing so.

On the protection of minors, the Government has agreed to lift the symbolic ban on 100 websites only after a coordinating agency is satisfied that its programmes to protect children are working effectively.

However it has declined to pay for Internet filtering services for parents, except for certain low-income families.

Finally, the law will be changed to confer limited immunity from defamation actions on websites that host content.

COMMENTARY & ANALYSIS

E-Engagement

Rethink some of its current citizen engagement processes

The Government has said that it will explore measures on how to formally recognise well thought-out suggestions and feedback submitted to it every year, to encourage more Singaporeans to come forward and be engaged.

This is an encouraging move. I’m sure there are many Singaporeans who, like me, have given up sending feedback to REACH (the Government feedback portal), because it all seems to go into a “black hole”, to be read only by junior civil servants. Although I don’t expect the Government to accept every suggestion, well-intentioned and considered views should not simply be filed away. They should at least be published and recognised so that other policymakers and stakeholders can read them and consider them for future implementation.

Engage voices outside of current Government platforms

The Government said that “it is not practical or feasible to respond to all blogs or forum postings”. No one is expecting the Government to respond to all blogs. But this should not prevent them from responding to some blogs, particularly those of serious socio-political bloggers who make cogent and rational suggestions in their posts.

It may be true that “not all bloggers welcomed (sic) the Government’s voice on their private blogs”, but there are some that do welcome a response.

I sense that the Government’s fear is that responding to a blog that is critical of the Government will lend the blog credibility, when it is more interested in discrediting opposing voices. Another fear is that a response will generate even more opposing views, which the Government may not have a response to. This may make the Government look bad.

I am glad to hear that the Government has decided to reply to online letters carried in the online letter forums of the local mainstream media. This should have been done all this while. There is no reason to believe that online letters are any less worthy of a response, since they too have been carefully selected for publication by the newspaper forum editors.

Giving more space for civil servants to voice opinions

The Government’s response to AIMS on this was a flat “no”. However, I feel the Government should consider allowing civil servants to comment publicly on policy matters outside the purview of their own ministry. For example, there is no conflict of interest for a MINDEF officer to comment on social welfare issues (which comes under the purview of MCYS).

Online Political Content

Certain party political films will be allowed, and during election period

It is a step forward for some party political films to be allowed, as opposed to the ridiculous blanket ban currently. Films that are “factual and objective, and do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture” will be allowed under the amended Films Act. The Government has said that it will continue to disallow “dramatised, sensationalistic and emotive party political films which would do harm to rational and objective political debate”.

But who is to judge what is factual and objective, or a dramatisation, a distortion, sensationalistic or emotive? These are very subjective judgment calls, which I doubt even the Independent Advisory Panel would be able to make fairly.

It would be much better to treat political films no different than normal commercials seen on TV. Companies who produce commercials which mislead consumers can be fined. But you don’t ban all TV commercials on the pretext that a few commercials may be false and misleading.

I am disappointed that the Government has taken this approach. I believe the real rationale behind it is that the Government wants to pre-empt the making of any films which may swing an election against them. This is not just self-interested, but kiasu (afraid to lose).

My stand is that Section 33 of the Films Act should be repealed completely. False and misleading films can be prosecuted under advertising or defamation laws. Citizens should be trusted to judge the rest, whether they want to believe them or reject them.

Section 35 of the Films Act

The Government has agreed with AIMS recommendation to retain Section 35 of the Films Act (Minister may prohibit possession or distribution of any film). But it has rejected AIMS recommendation for the Minister to be required to provide reasons for the ban.

This means Section 35 remains as an omnibus law which gives the Minister almost absolute discretion in banning a film. This renders any liberalisation of Section 33 (party political films) almost meaningless.

I have noted that the Government has stated that “films that may be banned under Section 35 will not be party political films”. But since the Minister can simply ban films without giving any reasons, this power can be used to ban films that even the Independent Advisory Panel has approved.

It should be noted that Martyn See’s “Zahari’s 17 Years” was a political film but it got banned under Section 35. Precedent already contradicts the Government’s claims.

Extend positive list for Internet Election Advertising

Political parties will now be allowed to use podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and other new media tools for Internet election advertising. This is a positive move. The onus is now on political parties to make full use of the increased space they have to communicate with the electorate to help them to make a more informed decision at the polls.

Conclusion

Overall, I feel that the Government’s moves are a positive step forward in engaging citizens and liberalising the political atmosphere. However they are not nearly what is expected of a country at such an advanced stage of its economic development.

AIMS report shows the way forward

The government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) released its long awaited report this morning.

Firstly, I would like to publicly commend Mr Cheong Yip Seng, the AIMS committee and its secretariat for a very well-researched, well-thought through and balanced report, and for the very consultative approach they had taken throughout the past 18-months.

When I first heard about AIMS when it was first launched, I thought to myself, “That’s it, now the government is going to use this committee to justify their clamping down on the Internet.”

I’m glad AIMS has proven me wrong. Although I still feel they have been a tad too conservative politically, I think their proposals, particularly the ones on political content can be said to be “one small step for the government, one giant leap for Singapore”.

The AIMS report can be viewed at www.aims.org.sg. The committee proposed the eventual repeal of Section 33 of the Films Act, which bans party political films, and recommended tightened disclosure requirements for Section 35, which currently gives “the Minister” the right to ban any film that he deems to be against the public interest. This is a bold step forward, which I hope the Government will accept. In fact, I hope they go one step further to repeal both those laws.

The AIMS report also contained unedited letters from the public and corporations in response to its consultation paper. I was quite amused how many members of the public appeared to have overreacted to AIMS’ proposed liberalisations. Many letters focused on how liberalisation will lead to an erosion of morals.

Let me say that as a Christian, and a professed social conservative, I am the last one who would want to see any erosion of our nation’s moral fabric. However I agreed with AIMS that, with respect to the Internet, education will serve as a better safeguard of morals than regulation. The thrust of AIMS’ proposed liberalisations are actually in the political sphere. In this aspect, I am strongly in favour of liberalisation, because our country is lagging far behind our peers in the developed world.

It will take me a while to go through the 224 page report to give my comments. But in the meanwhile, the following is my feedback to AIMS’ consultation paper released a few months back. Since the final report is quite similar to the consultation paper, many of my comments still apply to this report.

————-

23 September 2008

Mr Cheong Yip Seng
Chairman
Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society

FEEDBACK TO AIMS’ CONSULTATION PAPER

1 On 29 August 2008, the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) released a consultation paper to gather feedback from the public on its proposed recommendations to the Singapore Government on engaging new media.

2 This paper is my feedback to AIMS’ consultation paper. They are my personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of any groups or organisations that I am affiliated with.

3 The responses are grouped according to the chapters in AIMS’ consultation paper.

Chapter 1: E-engagement

4 There needs to be a paradigm shift in the Government’s thinking regarding e-engagement. As a general approach, instead of pouring money and resources into only building its own online platforms (e.g., REACH portal), where it tends to only preach to the choir, the Government should venture out to engage the “unconverted” on the latter’s turf. This was rightly pointed out in AIMS’ paper.

5 The Government may need to be selective about which areas it ventures into. The vast majority of bloggers who do not write about political issues would not appreciate it if a government official posts a comment “correcting” them for inaccuracies in their blog postings. However there are a few serious political bloggers who would appreciate a response to their ideas and suggestions, even if it comes in the form of a robust rebuttal from the Government.

6 Government representatives could respond by posting a comment on a blog post, or contributing full article response to the same blog. Serious blogs would be happy to grant the right of reply to the Government or any other party.

7 It would be preferred if politicians and government officials engage in their “personal” capacities — meaning there is no need to parade one’s full designations, titles and ministries when posting a simple comment on a blog. Blogosphere is an egalitarian society where the quality of one’s ideas counts more than the titles one carries.

8 Civil servants should be allowed to comment on policy matters outside the purview of their ministries, as long as they do so in their personal capacity and they do not divulge classified information. They should not be required to seek their permanent secretaries’ approval before speaking or writing to the media (including online media) on matters that does not directly concern their ministry.

9 The Information Ministry is already actively monitoring blogs and Internet forums. The Government should acknowledge some of the good ideas that are generated online, instead of constantly implying that serious political discussion is absent from the Internet.

10 E-engagement, if executed selectively and sensitively, could cause bloggers to be slightly more circumspect in expressing themselves on their blogs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Internet experts have highlighted that “people are more polite when they know you are listening” .

11 The Government should consider issuing press releases, releasing embargoed papers or speeches to citizen journalists, and inviting citizen journalists to cover press conferences and official events. Credible socio-political blogs could be issued press passes like the Malaysian government did for Malaysiakini and other online media.

12 This is a good way to encourage citizen journalists to firstly, report rather than simply comment from a distance; and secondly, to provide fairer and more balanced coverage.

13 Ministers and senior officials should not be reticent in granting interviews with credible online media if asked.

Chapter 2: Online Political Content

14 Section 33 of the Films Act, which bans “party political films” outright, is an ill-conceived and unnecessary law. Various arguments have been put forward by the Government in support of the law. Most centre around the possibility of a “freak election” result due to a “scurrilous” video being released a few days before Polling Day.

15 There is no evidence anywhere in the world of an freak election result simply due to a false and malicious video being released in the last few days of campaigning.

16 Any falsehoods or misrepresentations can be dealt with using the existing Penal Code, Sedition Act or Defamation Act. Furthermore, with its unfettered access to the mainstream media, the Government can easily refute any false allegations, even if they are made at the eleventh hour.

17 The goal of keeping election costs down can continue to be achieved by current election laws which limit the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on each voter.

18 In addition, the Parliamentary Elections Act could be amended to require any party political films to clearly state the sponsor of the video, as is required in the US, Australia and other developed countries. This will provide viewers a frame of reference to judge the partisan nature of the video.

19 Most importantly, we should not underestimate Singaporean voters’ ability to discern what is true and what is false and malicious.

20 AIMS has proposed a compromise “blackout period” whereby no new political videos can be released during the election period. A blackout period will take things back almost to square one. It will hamper political parties’ ability to communicate with the electorate during the most critical period when voters are making up their minds.

21 Even if there is a blackout period or if Section 33 remains on the statute books in its entirety, there is nothing stopping someone from uploading a “scurrilous” video to YouTube (or any of the dozens of video sharing sites). The fact that it is “prohibited content” would make it even more attractive to watch.

22 While I applaud AIMS’ attempt to push the boundaries by proposing a relook, and possible repeal of the law, I believe that anything short of a complete repeal of Section 33 of the Films Act would be disappointing to many thinking Singaporeans.

23 Separately, Section 35 of the Films Act (Minister may prohibit possession or distribution of any film) should be also be repealed. This is an omnibus law which gives the Minister absolute discretion in banning a film. If left in place, it would render any repeal of Section 33 meaningless. It should be noted that Section 15 (Prohibition and approval of films for exhibition) already empowers the Board of Film Censors to ban films.

24 I fully agree with AIMS recommendations regarding Internet election advertising and removal of the registration requirement in the Internet Class License Scheme.

25 In addition, election candidates and political parties should be allowed to solicit and accept donations over the Internet without overly stringent requirements to verify the identity of donors.

Chapter 3: Protection of Minors

26 Requiring ISPs to provide filtering in the form of Family Access Networks (FAN) on an opt-out basis is better than nothing. However FAN could give a false sense of security to parents who think that filtering provided by ISPs is going to filter out all undesirable content.

27 In fact, FAN cannot filter out a very large portion of undesirable content. At the same time, it could end up filtering content that the adults in the family may wish to view. For example, adults doing research on terrorism, drug abuse or gay issues could encounter blocked pages when using FAN.

28 It is much more effective to encourage parents to install Internet content filtering software on their home PCs . While PC-based filters do not filter out everything, they provides several advantages over FAN:

a. Access logging. Parents can view all the websites that their children access by checking the logs recorded by the software. If the child knows his parents are monitoring what he is surfing, he is much less likely to access sites he knows are out of bounds to him. Some software packages are able to email the daily log reports to parents.

b. Designating access time. Most filtering software allows parents to set the time in which the Internet can be accessed.

c. Auto lock out. The software can be configured to automatically block Internet access to the child if undesirable websites are accessed too many times.

d. Turning off filtering for adults. Parents (who have the password) can turn off filtering and logging so that they themselves can have full access to the Internet.

29 All this requires training for the parents. For parents who are IT savvy enough or are willing to learn, this provides the best method of regulating children’s access to the Internet and preventing them from accessing undesirable material.

30 For other non-IT savvy parents (who make up the vast majority of parents), there needs to be a concerted programme of parental education and awareness building.

Chapter 4: Intermediary Liabilities

31 I fully support AIMS recommendations in Chapter 4.

Summary

32 The following is a summary of my proposals:

a. Engage Netizens on their turf, not the Government’s.
b. Issue press passes and press releases to serious socio-political websites.
c. Allow civil servants to blog about policy issues.
d. Allow online political donations.
e. Completely repeal Sections 33 and 35 of the Films Act.
f. Encourage parents to install filtering software on their home PCs.
g. Educate parents on the use of such software.

33 I hope AIMS will consider these proposals in its final report to the Government

* * * * *

Submitted by:
Gerald Giam

PAP breaking films law?

A PAP activist who spoke at the party’s recent conference revealed to the Straits Times that “the party has put together some political videos” and “these will be posted on the party’s website” once the laws governing political videos are changed.

I wonder if the PAP is aware that according to Section 33 of the Films Act, which governs the “Making, distribution and exhibition of party political films”:

Any person who —

(a) imports any party political film;
(b) makes or reproduces any party political film;
(c) distributes, or has in his possession for the purposes of distributing, to any other person any party political film; or
(d) exhibits, or has in his possession for the purposes of exhibiting, to any other person any party political film,

knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the film to be a party political film shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

But they probably know full well about the law, since they came up with it in the first place. So is this another case of the PAP’s double standards?