PM Lee speaks about the Internet bogeyman

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.


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

6 thoughts on “PM Lee speaks about the Internet bogeyman”

  1. Seem like PM Lee is worried about cyber politics.I feel that it is nothing wrong to vote in a few bloggers such as Jeff Ooi to provide alternative voices in parliament.

  2. RH:
    1. Years ago, I wrote : “The more complete story is that the PAP has all the whole panoply of a vast arsenal of publicity machines at its disposal that can disseminate and propagate the PAP’s views or rebuttals even faster than the Internet. How so? Consider this. The PAP has absolute, total control over every print and broadcast media in Singapore. Through its control of all the major Internet, print and broadcast media, it can put out its case or rebuttals within a mere hour or two through TV, radio, Internet and even print. The last one may be a bit slower, but since there are afternoon papers as well as morning broadsheets, meaning 2 print runs a day, even the print media is able to publish rebuttals within half a day. As for TV, radio and Internet, it is even faster. Assuming that someone puts out a ‘vicious lie’ or ‘rumour’ in the morning, in just a few hours, the afternoon papers would print the PAP’s rebuttals. Even faster, the radio stations, online newspapers and the TV stations would broadcast the rebuttals and more, almost as soon as they receive them. And by next morning, the venerable Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao would have the whole thing sewn up conclusively. End of ‘vicious lies’. End of ‘rumour’. Killed even before most Singaporeans can even hear it.

    “Thus, what the PAP is afraid of is not so much ‘lies and rumours’ as the truth. Lies and rumours can always be quickly or even instantly rebutted, especially if you have total control of the media, but the truth is another, more troubling matter.”

    Read my full article at :

  3. It is always interesting to read Robert Ho and much of what he alleges seem very plausible. Unfortunately, we have yet to read, see, hear and witness any rebuttals against his allegations.

    Yes, Robert had through the Internet, claimed that his allegations are irrefutable. With his post here saying the MSM will be able to response and retaliate almost instantly and within hours, none had ever responded to him.

    So, can we infer that the MSM Peole do indeed avoid the Internet, just liked what Ong Sor Fern(of the Straits Times) told us?

    Are the MSM People interested in the Affairs, well beings of the people and the Society. If they are, why do they avoid the Internet, which carries much of the peoples’ opinions and views of our society?


  4. Dear Gerald,

    Interesting you mentioned the strategy of speaking about this issue via the chinese press. I had not looked at that angle as yet.

    Given the fact that it is well know that the cost of political campaigning via cyberspace is way cheaper than the usual way campaign way, why then is the PAP afraid and wishes to regulate it strongly?

    I will hazard a guess. Whereas the high cost of campaigning has kept many candidates and opposition party on the sideline, the low cost of cyberspace campaigning will actually lower the barriers to entry for many political parties and candidates. What the PAP fear is more of their competitive advantage in election machinery being eroded strongly by the low cost of entry and campaigning presented by the Internet.

    Robert Ho had made a very interesting point. Yes, with MSM all within influence of the PAP, the Internet probably remains an untame land, ala, Wild Wild West that the PAP fear they have no control over.

    PM Lee’s point may be to add bugbears and fears and discredit all political campaigning that may or may not be conducted on cyberspace so as to retain their competitive advantage.

    Right or wrong? I guess at times in politics its not right or wrong but whether the end justifies the means. The PAP probably felt the end justifies the means in this case.


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