Crikey’s man in Singapore, Paul Hanson, is shocked at the media oppression and censorship he’s encountered and we all wonder whether Singapore Inc should be given control of such a sensitive business as Optus.

Parties can now take polls battle to cyberspace Parliament passes amendment to allow Internet campaigning, though party and political sites will still be bound by rules.

By Irene Ng

POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

POLITICAL parties can campaign on the Internet in the coming General Election, under certain rules to be spelt out by the Government. Parliament yesterday passed an amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act to allow parties to take the electoral battle into cyberspace.

But they will be bound by certain rules listing the features these sites may contain. For party political websites, they will include the manifesto, party posters, candidate profiles, announcements of party events, positions on issues, moderated chats and discussion forums. The full list will be released when finalised before the election, said Information and the Arts Minister Lee Yock Suan. The rules will apply to political-party websites and non-party political websites. But non-party political sites should not campaign for any party, he added. This is to ensure a level playing field, and that political parties do not make use of non-party political sites to bypass the rules, he said. These are needed to keep political campaigning serious and responsible, he said.

“The Government has always maintained that politics should be based on factual and objective representation of issues, and reasoned debate,” he added. He dismissed speculation that the new rules were restrictive, saying: “This is the positive step in terms of liberalising the use of the Internet for political campaigning.”

A Straits Times check showed that, in December 1996, two opposition parties – the Singapore Democratic Party and the National Solidarity Party – said at their election rallies that the authorities had asked them to remove their candidates’ bio data from their websites. Yesterday, Mr Lee told Parliament that the 1997 election took place under rules that predated the Internet, and at a time when few people had access to the medium. But Singapore now has the highest Internet penetration rate in Asia, at 48 per cent.

Another provision introduced is to ban new displays of election advertising in all media on polling day, in line with current rules banning campaigning on polling day. But this does not stop the publication of any news or current-affairs coverage of the election in newspapers, or in radio or television broadcasts. Those convicted of breaking these rules can be fined up to $1,000 or jailed up to a year, or both.

The other two amendments to the Act are to ban the publication of the results of opinion polls on how electors intend to vote during the election, and to prevent a candidate from contesting in more than one constituency at the same time. Many of the 11 MPs who spoke yesterday had queries about the scope of the new rules. Did they affect mass e-mail messages, they asked. Mr Lee assured MPs that the Bill’s main concern was with the broadcast media, political-party sites and political websites, and not with individuals sending private e-mail messages to each other.

Ends.

Australian citizen in Singapore Paul Hanson responds

What a load of propaganda bullshit. You can tell who controls this paper. It reports this censorship as if it is a good thing. Here’s some details missing from the Straits Times (Should that be Straitjacket Times?):

In answer to the question about whether a person could be jailed or fined for sending an email telling their friends about a rally they just attended, the Minister for Information and the Arts, Mr Lee Yock Suan, said:

“The intention is not to go after individuals in their private emailing.” Thus avoiding answering the question since the intention and the practice can often be different when it comes to politics as we all know. But in a blaze of male chauvinism he continues:

“If it’s an individual or young man (sic) posting up his own site and says these are my own views, we are not going after those people. The intention here us to go after the broadcasters, the websites reaching out to a lot of people.”

How does the Minister think the web works? That websites are only available to a few people? This is a person clearly unused to free and open speech. He continued by saying that regulators would have to ensure that political advertisers do not circumvent the rules by sending mass emails disguised as private communication.

According to Streats magazine, a publication of Singapore Press Holdings and therefore hardly too critical of the government, the internet has become the liveliest forum for political debate in Singapore, where the print and broadcast media are widely perceived as supportive of the ruling People’s Action Party.

The new law means that non party political sites are not allowed to campaign for any party. “A free for all internet campaigning environment without rules is not advisable” says Mr Lee. “The anonymity in the Internet opens a door for surreptitious elements to mislead, distract and confuse the public.”

Broadcasting SMS messages also comes under the new restrictive laws. “If you’re trying to send out election poll results – which you’re not supposed to do (!) – by mass SMS to everybody, that will be violating the rules,” Mr Lee added. He said that more specific details of the new rules would be worked out carefully and released before the election, the minister said. These new rules will ensure a “level playing field” for the opposition parties.

The election, due by August 2002, is widely tipped to be taking place earlier.

More soon!

Paul Hanson.

Peter Fray

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