We were asked by Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) to register Sintercom under their "Singapore Broadcasting Authority (Class Licence) Notification 1996" on 5th July 2001. Here is the letter.
After receive this letter, we starting to think about our options. These are:
Two things in the registration forms struck me. One is obvious: on Form B2, the webmaster must declare that he/she takes full responsibility for all the content on the website, regardless of whether or not he/she had any editorial control. Fortunately, when I searched the SBA website, I found a clause in their code of practice that made this declaration more reasonable:
(3) An Internet Content Provider discharges his obligation under this Code:-
(a) in relation to private discussion fora hosted on his service (eg. chat groups), when the licensee chooses discussion themes which are not prohibited under the guidelines in clause 4 below;
This means that instead of having to actively read every single line that appears on our web-based chat, the webmaster needs only choose theme that are not prohibited. We only have three themes in our Forum: Kopitiam style general discussion, food, and forum self-governance. All seem alright to me. The other content, such as the Not The ST Forum, might have more problems and I shall come to them later.
The other thing that struck me but only later was that on the annex to Form B2 page 2, the webmaster must provide not only he/her personal information like IC, address, phone and email (naturally, the webmaster must be identifiable and contactable by SBA), but also his employer's contact and monthly salary, regardless of whether the web site has anything to do with the webmaster's place of work. Why does SBA need to identify and/or contact the employer? I do not know, but have dutifully provided that information as well.
Filling in forms was easy. Now, the question becomes: What does registration means for Sintercom? How can we comply?
As I see it, there are these ways:
In the SBA website, under the code of practice, it is stated that: (3) An Internet Content Provider discharges his obligation under this Code:-
(b) in relation to programmes on his service contributed by other persons who are invited to do so on the licensee's service for public display (eg. bulletin boards), when the licensee denies access to any contributions that contain prohibited material that he discovers in the normal course of exercising his editorial duties, or is informed about; And in the Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act (chapter 297) it is stated that:
15. If any doubt arises as to whether a licensee has used its best efforts in compliance with the conditions of this licence, the licensee shall be treated as having used its best efforts if it satisfies the Authority that it took all reasonable steps in the circumstances. I do not know what SBA defines as "all reasonable steps" but will assume that by furnishing SBA with everything instead of letting SBA discover content they object to and than having to inform us, we have taken "all reasonable steps". What we gain by doing this is that we will get clear and timely indication from SBA about our content. We protect ourselves from being accused of wilfully displaying content that contradicts section (x) article (y) of their code because the content had been up for 3 months and we did nothing to take it down. In this way, we will not self-censor, but we let SBA censor us whenever they like. This is not foolproof (nothing is) as someone could just set up another site overseas called NOT The Sintercom Site to archive all the censored stuff. But that person will not be me and it would not be within my control what happens overseas.
Many things could still go wrong. We will try to hold fast to our belief and principals as much as we can as new problems crop up. If future problems are too numerous or too insurmountable, we could still close down Sintercom. Of course, we hope that day will never come. If it does, it would be a dark day indeed.
Finally, I would humbly suggest to the government my belief that the most effective way to address worries about its good name being slandered is to engage critics in open debates. The Internet is neutral. It can spread slander about the government just as fast as it can spread slander about others. Likewise, it can spread good things about the government just as fast as it can spread good things about others. The Net is merely a neutral though powerful medium of communications. If the government is worried about the Net spreading slander faster than good things about it, it might want to do some exhaustive investigation why this is so. Trying to prevent differing views from appearing on the Net does not fundamentally address or resolve dissent. In the long run, trying to regulate discussion of issues on the Net will do more harm than good.
In accordance with what I said I shall try to do, I submit URLs of content currently on Sintercom's homepage to SBA on 18 July 2001. I used their web feedback form because I could not find any email address to write to on their web site.
The following are URLs of content accessible on Sintercom at our homepage.
Please advice if they comply with your content guidelines.
I was advised by a friend that I should not send any more Sintercom stuff for clearance because there are too many and it could be interpreted as malicious spaming. So I wrote them a letter dated 19 July:
Your Ref: SBA (P) 15/5-4 (C) 19 July 2001 Paglar Yvonne Ann (Ms) Management Executive (New Media Policy) Singapore Broadcasting Authority 140 Hill Street MITA Building #04-01 Singapore 179369 Fax: 336 8023 Dear Ms Paglar Yvonne Ann, Registration compliance of Sintercom I refer to your letter dated 13 July 2001. In order for Sintercom to comply with the requirements of registration, we need to consult SBA on the suitability of our past, present and future content. As the amount of information is large, please provide an email address so that I may send them to SBA. Thank you for your kind assistance. Yours truly,
SBA emailed back today (20 July 2001):----Original Message----- From: Felicia_TOH@sba.gov.sg [mailto:Felicia_TOH@sba.gov.sg] Sent: Friday, July 20, 2001 5:43 PM To: email@example.com Subject: SBA approval Your Request Dated : 18/07/2001 3:22:15 PM The following are URLs of content accessible on Sintercom at our homepage. Please advice if they comply with your content guidelines. www.sintercom.org/sba http://www.sintercom.org/notstf/busfare.html http://www.sintercom.org/notstf/GIC.html http://www.sintercom.org/notstf/overseas_voting.html http://www.sintercom.org/sef2001/ros/index.shtml http://www.sintercom.org/notstf/elitism.html http://www.sintercom.org/sp/interviews/coos.html SBA Reply Dated : 20/07/2001 5:32:33 PM Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Dr Tan We refer to your email dated 18 Jul. We would like to clarify that the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA)does not pre-censor materials or postings on political websites nor require content providers to send their content to SBA for clearance before they are put up on the websites. Under SBA's Class Licence, all Internet content providers are required to exercise judgment and take responsibility for content they place on their websites. SBA had issued an Internet Code of Practice for the Internet as a basis for content providers to exercise judgement and to act responsibly. Those concerned about what may be posted on the Internet should refer to the Code which is also available on the SBA website You may also wish to refer to our news release on the Registration of Political Websites which we are issuing today. Below is a copy of the news release for your reference. Yours sincerely Felicia Toh (Ms) Assistant Manager (Public Relations) Singapore Broadcasting Authority ____________________________________________________________________________ __________ Registration of Political Websites - What it Means The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) recently required Sintercom to be registered as a political website and Sintercom has complied with the request to register. 2 SBA would like to clarify that it does not pre-censor contents on political websites. Content providers of political websites are not required to clear their contents with SBA before publication. 3 Under the Singapore Broadcasting Authority's Class Licence, all content providers are responsible for the content of their websites. 4 Content providers who engage in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore on World Wide Web through the Internet are required to be registered with SBA. 5 The objective of registering political websites is to ensure that those who run sites engaging in the discussion of domestic politics are accountable and take responsibility for the content of their sites. 6 Registration is a simple administrative procedure. It only needs content providers to give SBA the particulars of the website and those who are responsible for the editorial content. This is as straight forward as the filling of a form. There is no cause for Sintercom to over react over such a simple request. 7 SBA had issued an Internet Code of Practice for the Internet as a basis for content providers to exercise judgement and to act responsibly. Those concerned about what may be posted on the Internet should refer to the Code which is also available on the SBA website. Singapore Broadcasting Authority Any further comments are welcome through our Feedback Form at http://www.sba.gov.sg
I wrote them this reply:Dear Felicia, Thank you for your email dated today 20 July 2001. Please refer to 4. (4) [sub-titled Prohibited Material] of the SBA Internet Code or Practice that you have quoted at http://www.sba.gov.sg/work/sba/internet.nsf/pages/code (4) A licensee who is in doubt as to whether any content would be considered prohibited may refer such content to the Authority for its decision. In accordance with your requirement, I sent you content that are already available to the public to seek your advise as to their suitability. They are not for pre-censorship. This is necessary as clauses such as "i. against the public interest, public order or national harmony; or ii. offends against good taste or decency" are so vague that depending on how one interprets it, many articles in Sintercom could be deemed to have contravened the said clause. If by saying that Sintercom is "over reacting", SBA means that I am overly cautious and that all such content are clearly well within SBA's content guideline, than I would very much appreciate if it could tell me so. Thank you for your kind attention. Yours truly, Chong Kee
SBA replied on 7th Aug 2001:Dear Dr Tan I refer to your email query dated 20 July 2001. Under the Singapore Broadcasting Authority's Class Licence, all Internet content providers whether registered with SBA or not, are required to exercise judgement and ensure that the contents on their websites comply with the SBA Internet Code of Practice. This applies to all websites. This approach has worked well as it gives the industry flexibility to develop and grow in Singapore. It is unnecessary for Sintercom to seek advice from SBA on its posting. We note that the URLs referred to in your email have been part of your regular postings. Yours Sincerely Felicia Toh Assistant Manager (Public Relations) Singapore Broadcasting Authority
I've still recovering from late nights celebration of National Day. We are taking some time to chew over this response and will decide in due course.