Why the rationale for the rules on internet broadcasting are not convincing
I wish to express my disagreement with the rationales given by the government for the general restrictions on internet publishing. In an answer to a question posed by Mr Low Thia Kiang in parliament on the 3rd of April 2006, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan identified several reasons why there are such restrictions.
He said that "in a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public. The Government has always maintained that political debates should be premised on factual and objective presentation of issues and arguments. The regulations governing Internet campaigning have served well to safeguard the seriousness of the electoral process."
He also said that "[w]e 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".
There are problems with this reasoning.
It is true that generally, there is a lot of nonsense being said with regards to political issues on the internet. Much of this nonsense is also published anonymously. But is the average internet user really going to take such views more seriously than views which are published by writers who are willing to reveal their identities? Probably not.
Moreover, many bloggers publish their personal details on their websites. They can hardly be described as anonymous. When they express their views on political issues, they are likely to do so responsibly. If they do not do so, they face liability from other areas of the civil law ( for instance, defamation) or the criminal law ( for instance, if they incite racial hatred).
The requirement that discussions be made in a "factual and objective" also makes it difficult for any meaningful political discussion to take place. It is not clear what this requirement means. Does it mean that every time an internet user comments on a political issue, he needs to mention an alternative view? Or is it that an internet user must appear not to condone any particular view at all?