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07 Apr 06
The Singapore government has been condemned for gagging political discussion on the web in the run up to the country’s parliamentary elections.
The government has extended censorship laws to ban podcasts and videocasts that carry political content.
Websites and blogs are already under strict control and must be registered with the government.
Media watchdog Reporters without Borders said the ban would prevent democratic debate on the net.
The ban was outlined by Communications and Arts minister, Balaji Sadasivan of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in a parliamentary speech.
It is enforced under a 2001 law that seeks to prevent overt advertising by political parties.
The ban will come as a blow to PAP opponents, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
It has used both podcasts and videocasts in an attempt to get round traditional media censorship laws in their campaign.
The party said on their website that the latest announcement was aimed “squarely at the SDP’s efforts to harness the new technology to advance its platform in the upcoming general elections”.
For its part, Reporters without Borders said: “Once again the Singapore authorities are showing their determination to prevent the holding of a genuinely democratic debate on the internet.”
No date has yet been announced for the election.
Outside of election periods, bloggers and website managers have to register with the Media Development Authority (MDA) if they want to write about party politics.
However during elections even registered users are prohibited from open political discussion.
The government said that anyone breaking the ban faces legal action.
The announcement is an extension of the Singapore government’s strict censorship policy that applies to all media.
Recently the government relaxed some of its laws in an attempt to market the country as a hub for arts and culture.
The film, Brokeback Mountain, passed film censors this year, in spite of the country’s stringent laws against homosexuality.
Government steps up online censorship in run-up to elections
Reporters Without Borders has condemned rules gagging free expression online, in the same way as for traditional media, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Singapore.
Singapore Information, Communications and Arts minister, Balaji Sadasivan, repeated on 3 April 2006, the strict rules in force since 2001 on Internet use in electoral periods. The Singapore government has already warned Internet users who are likely to discsuss politics online that they are at risk of legal action. No official date has been announced for the elections but they are due to be held in the next few months.
“Once again the Singapore authorities are showing their determination to prevent the holding of a genuinely democratic debate on the Internet,” the press freedom organisation said.
During a parliamentary debate on 3 April 2006, Balaji Sadasivan repeated and enlarged on the very restrictive measures applying to Internet use during election campaigns. Bloggers and website managers do not have the right to back a particular candidate’s programme.
Outside of elections periods, bloggers have to register with the Media Development Authority (MDA) if they want to openly and regularly defend a political line. But during election periods, the fact of being registered does not allow them to express opinons on political issues. Website managers are subjected to the same rules.
These restrictions will now also apply to new Internet technology. The minister specified that use during the campaign of podcasting and videocasting, two new devices for putting audio or video online, will be banned if they carry political content. During the last election campaign, in November 2001, the main opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party, made use of podcasting.
Sinapan Samydorai, chairman of the freedom of expression organisation Think Centre, who has been forced to register his website, said that there has been no improvement since the last elections in 2001, during which official party websites were the only authorised source of political news and information.
Another Singaporean blogger, known under the pseudonym of Alex, highlighted the confusion that has been caused by the minister’s remarks about the exact limits of Internet-users rights to express themselves politically in his country. “The minister’s statements raise more new questions than it provides clarification”, he told Reporters Without Borders.