In an interview with Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday, PM Lee delved into the topic of new media.
THE new media is changing rapidly and Singapore’s laws must evolve to keep up, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
But any loosening up will be done carefully.
Otherwise, misinformation and extremist views could proliferate.
Politics might also become tainted by graft if parties have to spend large sums to campaign online, he warned.
But the status quo is not an option either.
‘Some have said that ‘one year in the new media is equal to seven years in the world outside’,’ he said.
‘So in one term of the Government, there will be five years of changes in the new media, which is equal to more than 30 years in the real world. It is a whole new world.
‘Thus, it is necessary for us to update the rules to adapt to the demands of the new era. We will examine whether we should relax part of the rules but this issue will be handled cautiously to prevent a negative impact.‘
Current laws disallow the making and distributing of party political films.
During campaign season, political parties are not allowed to put audio or video-casts on their websites.
Mr Lee warned that Singapore would suffer if elections came to be fought through expensive online films and advertisements.
‘If a party needs money, many people are willing to donate, but these political contributions never come with no strings attached. After you win and come into power, the donors will turn up politely to ‘collect their dues’,’ he said.
– excerpts from The Straits Times, 14 April 2008
I am getting rather worried by the remarks by PM Lee about changing new media laws. It appears that some change is on the cards, but it won’t be nearly as drastic as many Singaporeans are hoping for.
For a start, it’s interesting that PM Lee chose to reveal his thoughts on new media to a Chinese language newspaper, instead of the Straits Times or TODAY. The Chinese press tends to be read more by older and/or lower-income Chinese Singaporeans, who are the least frequent users of the Internet and the most concerned about religious extremism. This makes fertile ground to sow fear about the dangers of the Internet.
PM Lee said that if the loosening up was done too fast, “misinformation and extremist views could proliferate”. But since the declaration of MICA’s “light-touch” approach to regulating the Internet, have we seen this happen? I don’t think so. What we have seen is a tremendous improvement in the level of political debate in this country.
He warned that “politics might also become tainted by graft if parties have to spend large sums to campaign online”.
Current election laws already prevent candidates from spending more than I believe $3 per voter. Thus the mechanism is already in place to prevent lobby money from dominating the political scene here. In fact, the current opposition parties spend far less than what they are allowed to, and much less than the PAP. Even if online campaigning were allowed, this limit will still remain.
In fact, putting up a website is much, much cheaper than printing brochures and sign-boards.
Again, PM Lee warned that Singapore would suffer if elections came to be fought through expensive online films and advertisements.
This contradicts an earlier statement by George Yeo, the Minister for Information and the Arts when “party political films” were outlawed here.
Mr Yeo had said on Channel NewsAsia on 9 January 2007 that the government at that time “did not reckon this new media which allows you to produce the programmes quite cheaply”, and felt that the government has “got to adjust that position (of banning party political films)”.
Finally, PM Lee said many people are willing to donate to a party, but these political contributions never come with no strings attached. After you win and come into power, the donors will turn up politely to ‘collect their dues’.
Our political donations laws are one of the most stringent in the world. None of that is about to change. The only thing that might change is that opposition parties might find it easier to raise money on the Internet, just like Malaysia’s Jeff Ooi and US Presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The bottom line in all these arguments: Whatever is not advantageous to the PAP, we will continue to ban.
Update: A group of bloggers, including myself, will be submitting a paper to the Government, detailing the changes we would like to see made to our laws and regulations of the Internet. This paper is into its final revisions and will be out in a matter of days rather than weeks. Stay tuned for more information on The Bloggers’ Feedback to the Government.