Thursday, June 6, 2013

MDA Licensing Outcry – is it an overreaction?

The ‘blogging community’ is up in arms over MDA’s new licensing framework for online news sites. I use air quotes to describe this community as they are more often than not squabbling with each other over copyright infringements and popularity battles. Perhaps ‘the blogging extended family’ is more appropriate. Every large family has a couple of recalcitrant troublemakers that you try hard to disassociate from, but are unable to avoid come CNY and other major gatherings.
With only ten sites listed under this new scheme, nine of which are part of the mainstream media, you might be mistaken into believing that independent bloggers and netters are suddenly throwing their support behind a group collectively, and colourfully, dubbed ‘the 154th media’.
For the context of this battle between bloggers and government regulating authorities, you will need to look back about five years for the last major discussion on Internet Freedom.
How many of us remember Aims?
No, not Action Information Management Systems (AIM), but the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims). Aims was set up in 2007 to advise the Government how social, ethical, legal and regulatory impact of new media should be managed in line with the growth of the media.

Protecting Content Providers from Defamation Lawsuits
A key recommendation that was raised and accepted by Government was that online intermediaries to be given some protection from defamation lawsuits.
This sought to achieve the dual objectives of stopping lawsuits against content hosts who had not put up the allegedly defamatory material, and overzealous censorship by content companies worried about such prosecution. Back then, nominated MP and general counsel of Yahoo! Southeast Asia it is “generally a good thing forall parties involved to have their rights and obligations clearlyspelt out”.

Where are we now?
Things have changed, but not entirely as expected. It seems that in order to protect the content provider from defamatory lawsuits, a simplified 24-hr take down notice, tied to a $50,000 performance bond and other fines, have been introduced.
Perhaps looking back at his past participation in the debate over Aims, Siew Kum Hong, now a former NMP and former corporate Lawyer for Yahoo! Southeast Asia, contends that “the Singapore government has been looking for a way to give itself the power to censor the internet, in the same way that it has the power to censor offline media.”
But he is not the only one singling out Yahoo! Singapore as the MDA’s prime target.
Of course, many of us are aware of the often critical views expressed on Yahoo.  (In particular, posts by Andrew Loh on YahooNews could be quite irksome to the powers that be.)”, wrote legal blogger Subra of
Moving beyond Yahoo! Singapore, many netters have joined in the chorus of seeking assurances that these new rules will cover only commercially-operated sites and not individual bloggers. Many attempts have already been made to allay these fears. The latest on this respect is found here:
But as Andrew loh of PublicHouse and weekly contributor to Yahoo Singapore says “Some of us bloggers have stood up and are standing against the new regulations because we know that contrary to what the government has said so far, the new licensing regime is and will be used to snuff out alternative viewpoints and information which the State disapprove of.”


Several sociopolitical websites and bloggers will hold a protest both online and offline this week against the new licensing scheme that came into effect yesterday. 
The group of netizens - which calls itself Free My Internet - circulated a statement online yesterday calling for people to join them at a rally at Speakers' Corner this Saturday, as well as for netizens to shut down their blogs and websites for 24 hours this Thursday.
The statement had 34 signatories, including the editors of sites such as The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus and Public House; prominent bloggers and Mr Gilbert Goh, the man who organised the recent protests at Hong Lim Park against the White Paper on Population.
        ST Article 

The way that the regulations are crafted will easily extend to cover websites and blogs during elections.
SDP Statement

It is puzzling that at a time when it should be promoting more open and frank discussion about national issues, the Government has instead seen fit to increase regulation on a media landscape that is already tightly controlled,” said the NSP’s Secretary-General Hazel Poa in the statement.

This latest move from the Government has raised many questions and concerns. When Parliament next sits, you can expect WP MPs to be asking the Minister for Information and Communications many of these questions, and pressing him for a response.”

If one wishes to be pedantic, you could easily dismiss the above as overreactions as a result of misinterpretations. After all, the new rules do not apply to socio-political blogs and political websites. So why are these disparate groups kicking about a fuss over a legislation that in essence does not concern them?

Furthermore, the internet is too large to be limited to mainstream media portals and this handful of bloggers and politicians.  For example, there are many internet forums that house a whole array of unfettered discourse. The beast that is the WWW cannot be regulated. It can however be self-regulated, to an extent.

I cannot speak for everyone so I will just end with my own interpretation. In a nutshell, the anger is as much in reaction to how the rules emerged, as to the nitty gritty of the rules themselves.

With all the recent talk about the Our Singapore Conversation, a public consultation would have probably made this issue more palatable. We have had recent public consultations for tax code reforms, tobacco control, personal data protection bills, lemon law …etc, so this is not some radical idea. How about a parliamentary debate and vote? Some might call it a wayang exercise but it forces the crafters of such legislation to defend their position and not hide behind other ministers.

If the Government had tried to bring this blogging extended and dysfunctional family back to the table, it wouldn't be eating alone right now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Workers' Party - Forever the Bridesmaids to a Tyrant

After observing this BE over the past few days, and reading all the various commentaries, I am starting to question if the WP has enough ambition to live up to their grand following.

While there are many who praise the WP and their role as underdogs in keeping the PAP in check, I wonder whether they have curbed their own potential by constantly using this underdog approach. Ito  am perplexed why they constantly say that their role in Government is to keep the PAP in check. Their mere presence being the justification for a MIW panic.

Is that really enough? Can we realistically, hand on heart, attribute all the positive (incremental) changes we have witnesses solely to a party that sits quietly in Parliament?

Shouldn't they aspire higher and really contest to take over control of the Parliament, to really make a change as a WP Government? At this stage it seems that their reach barely reaches their grasp. A First World Parliament was promised in GE2011, and what we got an opposition that strives to irritate, rather then replace the PAP. They should be aiming to form their own Parliament, a WP Parliament. 
You don t need to win Punggol East SMC simply to get control of another town council to check for shady transactions. To make the PAP work harder. What they should say is that they want to win Punggol East and thereafter garner enough seats to form the next Government! 

This is where I feel the SDP would have fared better. Dr Chee would not be content to play ombudsman to the PAP.  He wants to really transform Singapore for the better.  He and the SDP have a very clear vision for a totally different Government.

In this respect, the WP has been disappointing in this BE, wasting the graciousness of the SDP pull-out from the race.  How many elections can WP run on the same platform to be bridesmaids to the tyrant?  Without ambition in Parliament, WP have only themselves to blame for all the lame duck criticisms leveled against them by the PAP.  The WP should take a leaf from their greatest leader, JBJ who had single-handedly stood up without fail against the PAP in Parliament. I really do hope that for Punggol East, his son can beat the bridesmaids to the alter, and show Singaporeans how it should be done.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Punggol East SMC - Is the Workers' Party the Only Choice?

Following the sudden resignation of PAP MP Michael Palmer for having an affair with a PA staff working in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, a by-election has to be called for the vacated single seat at Punggol East SMC.

Shortly after the announcement, two parties have been quick to announce their positions. The Workers’ Party (WP) has affirmed their desire to contest the seat, and Singapore People’s Party (SPP) Chairperson Lina Chiam, has opined that “the Workers’ Party should have the priority to contest in the by-election, due to their earlier involvement in the constituency during the 2011 General Election.”

With the controversy surrounding WP’s Yaw Shin Leong’s resignation from his Hougang SMC seat under similar circumstances, it would seem like poetic justice for the WP to claim another election scalp. While the need for a by-election is certain, I would hope that the bout line-up is not prematurely fixed.

In the last General Election in 2011, Desmond Lim Bak Chuan of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), received a lot of criticism for initiating a three-cornered fight and not graciously stepping out of WP’s Lee Li Lian’s way. Back then I felt that this criticism was harsh, and I fear the same will be repeated for any party ‘full-hardy’ enough to get in WP’s way. While Lina Chiam might think that the WP has some pre-ordained right to contest Punggol East SMC, let us not forget that not one, but three other opposition parties have similarly contested this electoral real estate in the past. 

Back in 1988, Abdul Rasheed of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) stood in what was then, Punggol SMC. He attained a respectable 40.1% of the votes.

Subsequently in the 1991 elections, Punggol SMC was absorbed into Cheng San GRC. This GRC was contested by National Solidarity Party (NSP), which garnered 35.9% of the votes .

 In the 2001 elections Cheng San GRC controversially split into Aljunied GRC, Ang Mo Kio GRC and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. Pasir Ris-Punggol saw a walkover that year, but was challenged by the SDA in the next elections in 2006. And of course we all remember the 2011 elections, where Punggol East SMC was carved out of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Therefore, contrary to popular belief and short-termed memories, the WP is not the only natural choice. I do hope that more qualified candidates from other parties give serious consideration to contesting Punggol East SMC. And if such a candidate should emerge, I wonder if the WP supporters are matured enough to recognize this.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Vote-Buying Rears Its Ugly Head

The decision by WP MP Pritam Singh to selective wave ‘carrots’ at supporters of his upgrading initiative for Aljunied GRC, truly puzzles me.

At best you could say his stumbling into the realm of unethical vote-buying was a result of his naivety. Perhaps they might argue that they followed the advice of a well-intending grassroot advisor, and failed to realise that they have inadvertently alienated residents for whom upgrading was possibly an economic or general inconvenience.

If the move was intended to reward WP supporters, the WP also probably failed to realise that perhaps some of the constituents might just not want the upgrading? Did you some how adopt the hubris attitude that you are either with us or against us? That if your voted no, you must be a die-hard PAP supporter?

I am particularly irked by this news as many an opposition rally message have focused on the abusive nature of associating votes with upgrading. The WP has often said that the PAP insults the sensibilities of Hougang residents by thinking that they can be bought over.

Stepping away from the political realm, this lucky draw reminds me of the unethical practices that plagued private property owners going through an Enbloc exercise. Before amendments to Enbloc Sale rules, sales committees would ‘threaten’ hesitant sellers that if they did not vote for the sale, and if the sale subsequently went through, they would not get their share of the remaining building/sinking fund.

Now I am not the type to clamour over freebies and lucky draws, but i do feel for any resident that feels discriminated and isolated. I didn’t like it when the PAP did it, and i still don’t like it when the WP does it.
ps. Goh Meng Seng, a former member of the WP, shares his view on this issue, and i append his posting below

Netizens question upgrading lucky draw

Posted on Oct 3, 2012 7:17 PM Updated: Oct 3, 2012 8:09 PM

A lucky draw organised by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council to thank
residents who voted for upgrading has attracted flak online.

On Tuesday, the Facebook group Fabrications About The PAP
posted a scanned image of a letter which Aljunied MP Pritam Singh sent last month.

Dated Sept 21, the letter is addressed to residents of Eunos
Spring which is in Mr Singh’s ward. It states that 79 per cent of the residents had said yes to the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP).

It also invites residents to a “modest thank-you reception” organised by the town council held on Sept 29, featuring a dialogue with residents and a lucky draw. Prizes included a Samsung 40-inch television, an iPad, and close to 100 household appliances.

One line of the letter states: “All residents who voted YES in the NRP polling exercise are automatically included in the draw.”

Netizens latched on this line, with some questioning why the ballot was not secret, while others asked why residents who turned down NRP were being left out.

Singapolitics asked Mr Singh for his reasons for the lucky dra
w, and if residents who turned down upgrading would be allowed to take part.
We also asked if he would respond to netizens’ accusations that he is discriminating against residents who voted no.

In response, he referred Singapolitics to the Housing Board saying they were the “best authority to check with” and added that the town council will be issuing a statement on Thursday.

The Housing Board said it would reply on Thursday.
Singapolitics understands that it is usually the town council, not
the Housing Board, that conducts such upgrading polling exercises.

The NRP is a government-sponsored programme which sees neighbourhoods fitted with improvements such as drop-off por
ches, covered linkways and resident’s corners.

Residents can propose improvements, and at least 75 per cent of eligible flat owners must support it before it can be carried out.

In April last year, one month before the general elections which saw the Workers’ Party win Aljunied GRC, it was announced that Eunos Spring was eligible for upgrading.

However, the previous working committee secured less than 50 per cent approval, according to another letter by Mr Singh in August this year. The area was under PAP MP Zainul Abidin Rasheed at that time.

Mr Singh said then that in the first quarter of 2012, he went d
oor to door to secure resident approval, along with town council officers as “we did not want to lose the opportunity for upgrading for Eunos Spring”.

Friday, May 11, 2012

THOR - The HOugang Rematch

It’s like World Cup season just that it’s not about football. The election fever is back, but this time it’s happening at the hottest and most controversial SMC in Singapore: the resilient Hougang. The mighty hammer and irrepressible lightning bolt will meet again in another historic battle after GE2011 last year. WP-PAP showdown will be on 26 May 2012 for an ultimate providence of Hougang after Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the WP in Feb this year.

After GE2011, the nationwide mood has plunged into deeper darkness. In the last 6 months, the PAP was faced with tumultuous series of misfortunes – influx of FT, high cost of living, ponding problems, and transport woes. The Prime Minister, his cabinet members and the PAP's glorified prestige have been repeatedly stricken. Many Singaporeans have lost hope and rising call for change continue to plague Singapore’s social media.

Despite these dark shadows, PAP Desmond Choo, who has been nominated as the hopeful candidate in Hougang appears rather positive as he is doomed to face an uphill battle against the confident WP Png Eng Huat. Last May, Desmond reaped 35.2 per cent of the votes from Hougang residents. On the contrary, Png scoring a respectable 45.2 per cent against the PAP at East Coast GRC which was the WP's third-best result in GE2011.
Hougang has been a WP's stronghold for so many years, thus it is challenging for PAP to wrest control from WP. Many speculated that the opposition will retain Hougang with a narrower margin because of the impact of extramarital affair allegations by Yaw, who is still tight-lipped about the whole saga. Not surprising, PM Lee has leaped on this opportunity to criticize the WP and Yaw for failing to give a full account of the allegations as well as his expulsion.

Despite their loyalty and kinship with WP, Hougang residents described the PAP rookie as hardworking and sincere young man. Now take your pick, a new kid on the block with an innocent face or a weather-beaten face with vast experience? The fate of Hougang depends on some 23,000 eligible and hopefully smart voters. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Impact of Bersih 3.0

History has repeated itself, again. Looks like PM Najib had his balls fried. He should really start planning his long vacation as the future of Barisan National appears rather bleak. BERSIH 3.0 showcased the banal Malaysian government is not simple. Today, they say apple. Tomorrow they will say durian. Next week they declare no such fruits existed. Malaysian political arena is like a cock-fighting match. Full of drama, colourful and twisted.

Summary of Bersih 3.0

On 28 April 2012, BERSIH 3.0 has met with another vile finale. Aside from the unnecessary razor wires around Dataran Square which was a banned venue, the Malaysian police had used water canons and tear gas to disperse crowds.  The Malaysian police has made a fatal mistake and caused public furore. There were contradicting reports between the Malaysian government and the Bersih organisers. Bersih organisers claimed that it was a peaceful sit-in protest until it was hijacked by agent provocateurs at Dataran Merdeka. If we were to look at how Bersih had managed to galvanise rallies in 35 countries and 85 locations,  this was indeed successful. On the other hand, the Malaysian government claimed that BERSIH 3.0 participants broke the law as they breached the barricades and attacked policemen. After every BERSIH rally, each generation, people are becoming more emboldened to challenge the police as the stand-off continues. One thing’s for sure, the opposition should stay away from influencing the outcome of electoral reform.

Era of Social Movements
Role of civic societies have made people engage, interact and involve in decision making process in public affairs with the hope that change can occur before the elections. Civic awareness in Malaysia has unquestionably influence BERSIH rally and represent a profession. Through social movements it shows there is a growing voice in public affairs and people push forward their agenda and demand political legitimacy from the Malaysian government. The mass protest worked and has been capable of galvanising massive collective action peacefully throughout the world. The main demand for BERSIH is simply to call for a clean and fair elections for the people and the country.

About 40,000 people attended the BERSIH 1.0 rally on November 10, 2007, and the number of participants for the BERSIH 2.0 rally on July 9 last year increased by 10,000 people, even after the police had sealed the city. It showed that BERSIH has enhanced its capacity to mobilise. It was reported some 80,000 participants had taken part in BERSIH 3.0 last Saturday at Dataran Merdeka alone.

BERSIH 1.0, was a flashpoint as it created an impact in subsequent rallies. The demographic made up of unanimous people from all walks of life. In BERSIH 2.0, there was an impasse between the people and the government. The Malaysian government had declared that BERSIH was illegal. Water canons and tear gas were used to disperse the crowds in 2010. In BERSIH 3.0, initially the Malaysian government appeared eager to repair the image of the government through several policy changes. Home Minister, Datuk Hishammudin had given his word that BERSIH sit-in demonstration will go on as planned as it would pose no security concern to the government.

Tattered image of Barisan National

The image of the ruling coalition have been charred after BERSIH 3.0. The Malaysian government will have to follow the people’s choice. Reluctance to electoral reform may cause a disadvantage to the ruling coalition. Electoral reform is very important in building a culture and society. So, this is how the future of the world will be. People will demand for more transparency and they will dabble into government's affairs as ultimately their lives wil be affected by these policies. Seems like Najib’s government will need to postpone the election again to a later date. 

Impact of Bersih on Singapore

The use of the social media in proletarian movements permits the public to redefine the venerable adage of strength in numbers. Most importantly, it emboldens the people to be engaged citizens, blind to distance and colour. However, many argue that "soft protest" is an anemic replica of the commitment required on the ground, along with its prospective risks. However, BERSIH have proven that online protests can be easily translated into action, thanks to the mighty digitial pen.

Cynicism towards the “old guard” is mounting, especially amongst young voters who have grown impatient at the mainstream media bias and marginalisation throughout their lives. If the demands of the younger generation are not met, they will retaliate and throw their antics around like a spoiled-brat until the authority relent or gives up. We have witnessed Arab and Malaysian Spring, Singapore’s turn has yet to come.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Freedom of Assembly in Singapore

This Saturday 28 Apr 2012, BERSIH SG 3.0 will gather opposite Sultanah Aminah Hospital in JB at 1.30pm since the permit for Hong Lim Park picnic was rejected. Hong Lim park is just like any other parks in our neighbourhood with a lost purpose. The Speakers’ Corner is will soon be converted into a playground or a row of BBQ pits. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be more plausible for a bunch of Malaysians and Singaporeans to gather in a picnic setting at Hong Lim Park rather than knowingly allow them to march into JB in yellow tops? At least we know such an event is happening in designated location in Singapore which can be easily curtailed by the government if security is the main concern.

BERSIH, meaning ‘clean’ in Malay language, is a march for free and fair elections with a firm anti-corruption stance. It is a common knowledge that such events will not be celebrated and encouraged by the Singapore government no matter how ‘peaceful’ as it disturbs law and order. Despite the venue ban, thousands are expected to sit-in Dataran Merdeka Kuala Lumpur Duduk Bantah on 28 April 2012, a much anticipated event will take place concurrently worldwide including Singapore.

Many Singaporeans were alarmed and disturbed to see ‘outsiders’ conduct their peaceful assemblies and demonstrations in Singapore so as not to leave the impression Singapore supports foreign anti-government practices.  The incumbent has claimed to be a world-class government, so they must walk-the-talk and be receptive to peaceful assemblies and ‘picnics’. The society is made up of thinking generation who are not afraid to fight for their rights and freedom of expression. If you don’t play along with the game, the government will lose support from the masses just like what is happening now in UMNO, and a near-miss in the last GE2011. Malaysian government is trying to break away from rigidity as seen in their recent policy tweakings and gradual leniency in freedom of expression. Maybe Singapore should follow suit and take some lessons from BERSIH 2.0 and 3.0.

Lessons from Bersih 2.0

The enthusiasm was also felt here as Malaysians who live and work in Singapore have identified themselves as BERSIH 2.0 Singapore planned a picnic gathering at Hong Lim park on 9 Jul 2011, a mirrored event alongside other major countries worldwide. They called themselves “guests in Singapore and have no wish to do anything that is not within the confines of Singapore law”, turned up in yellow tops to show solidarity and lend their support to fellow friends in KL. There were no speeches and demonstrations. 

After a messy man-handling during BERSIH 2.0, Malaysian Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin recently released a statement indicating the Malaysian government is slowly embracing democracy and freedom of expression for BERSIH 3.0. Hishammuddin professed that peaceful public assemblies was not a security concern as long as demonstrators abide to the regulations. He also announced that there will be an increase  in police presence to administer the assembly. Malaysian government have learned well from their over-reaction during BERSIH 2.0 in KL. Despite many denials, the Malaysian government was directly responsible for the escalation and brought the Malaysians to this deadlock.  

Likewise, the Singapore government has taken the view that this freedom of assembly should be curtailed for the fear of disruption. The fact that we are still fearful of racial riots after 40 years clearly shows the backwardness of thinking and our inability to let go of the past. However, Singapore government has not close its door entirely to all peaceful assemblies. In the past, Free Burma Protest and have demonstrated that there is a possibility of public assembly and demonstration with strict adherence to regulations. 

More than 10,000 supporters for the Freedom to Love campaign turned up in pink tops at Pink Dot 2011 picnic and concert at Hong Lim Park on 18 June 2011.  It was a success whereby the public were invited to attend but non-Singaporeans and non-PRs are not allowed to be within the dot formation when the time comes. They were however, invited to watch the formation from a designated observation area. In another case, some 40 Burmese citizens gathered at Hong Lim Park to call for boycott of the elections in 30 Oct 2010 “No To Burma’s Sham Elections” organised by the Free Burma Campaign Singapore (FBCSG)

Why Singapore should allow peaceful assemblies? 

The UN Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the general assembly in 1948 declares "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". 

An assembly should be deemed peaceful if its organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent from a number of individuals in a public place for a common expressive purpose. The term “peaceful” should be interpreted to include conduct that may annoy or give offence, and even conduct that temporarily hinders, impedes or obstructs the activities of third parties. People can gather peacefully for a cause.  Just like how the Christians attend church mass and Muslims congregate for prayers on Fridays. All these are peace assemblies with a purpose to render support for the respective inclination. The right to assemble peacefully, together with freedom of expression and freedom of association, rests at the core of any functioning democratic system. 

Let’s take a look at the GE2011 rallies. Thousands of Singaporeans flocked the designated public spaces. Those were large-scale public gatherings with no disruptions to the law and order. Everyone were there for a same purpose and show support for the respective parties. A series of peaceful assemblies with everyone in safe and sound. 

Despite PM Lee Hsien Loong's call to promote increased political awareness, in reality it is still moving vapidly and unyielding towards new challenges. An open and mature society should have an equally open and mature government.