Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Singapore Elections - No Talking

To understand Singapore, it is necessary to understand the statement

"That which is not permitted is forbidden".

Once you take that on board, it is a lot easier to anticipate what might seem like unusual statements by government spokesmen.

One might have thought that a lively debate among an informed electorate was one of the key elements of a healthy democracy, but it turns out that this doesn't apply in Singapore.

The local tabloid Today is carrying an article outlining the government's clarification that podcasting is not allowed during elections, nor is the streaming of video, nor "persistently promoting political views".

PODCASTING will not be allowed during elections as it does not fall under the "positive list" which states what is allowed under election advertising.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan, the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, added that streaming of videos during campaigning would also be prohibited. He was addressing a question in Parliament by Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang yesterday about the use of new technologies on the Internet during hustings.

Pictures of candidates, party histories and manifestos are on the "positive list" and they are allowed to be used as election advertising on the Internet. Newer Internet tools such as podcasting do not fall within this "positive list".

Dr Balaji said: "There are also some well-known local blogs run by private individuals who have ventured into podcasting. "The content of some of these podcasts can be quite entertaining. However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations. A similar prohibition would apply to the videocasting or video streaming of explicitly political content."

The Parliamentary Election Act was amended in 2001 to allow political parties to advertise on the Internet. This was to ensure responsible use of the Internet during campaigning as the free-for-all environment of the Internet is open to abuse.

Dr Balaji added that individual bloggers can discuss politics, but have to register with the Media Development Authority if they persistently promote political views. Once registered, they are not allowed to advertise during elections, something only political parties, candidates and election agents are allowed to do.

Despite the new Internet technology, there are no plans to change the law on online campaigning during an election, said Dr Balaji.

"We recognise that in our society, people will have their diverse opinion and some will want to share their opinion. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the Internet to manipulate public opinion. "It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner," he said.

Channel NewsAsia

I sort of get the point about anonymous manipulation, but if a person is willing to stand behind their statements and identify themselves, what is the harm in expressing an opinion?

Of course, the chance of that happening anyway is limited given the novel and effective use that has been made of libel laws in Singapore.

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