On 1 June 2013, the Media Development Authority ("MDA"), Singapore's media regulator, imposed a new regulatory regime for online news sites which regularly reports on Singapore and have significant reach in readers. This replaces the previous class licence regime applicable to news website, which did not require prior regulatory approval.

Background

The new regulatory framework has been put into effect on 1 June 2013 by the Broadcasting (Class Licence) (Amendment) Notification 2013, which introduces a new licensing regime for online news sites. In particular, news websites meeting certain criteria will be notified and are required to obtain a licence from the MDA. Notably, this replaces the previous regime which automatically granted class licence to internet content providers for operating online news platform, subject to various licence conditions such as registration with the MDA and payment of licence fees.

Who will be affected?

Under the new licensing regime, the MDA will assess which online news sites will be required to obtain a licence based on the following criteria:

  • news sites recording a monthly average of at least 50,000 different viewers in Singapore over a period of 2 consecutive months; and
  • news sites reporting an average of at least one article per week on Singapore's news and current affairs (currently defined to include any report or public interest on any aspect of Singapore in any language, but excluding any Government news programme) within the same period of 2 consecutive months.

The MDA will issue a formal notification to news sites falling within the above criteria which requires them to obtain a licence under the new regulatory framework. Currently, only 10 news sites (local-based online news platform) have been identified by the MDA that will receive licensing notifications. MDA is currently engaging with the regulated sites on the licence conditions and it is expected that the new licences will take effect between September and October this year.

Key issues under the new regime

  • Whilst the exact licence conditions of the regulated news sites are yet to be finalised, the previous content control standards (under the class licence regime) would remain applicable (ie, the same content regulation under the Internet Code of Practice would apply under the new regime).
  • The MDA stated in its recent press statement that two additional requirements will be imposed on licensees. In particular, the regulated news sites are required to remove material that the MDA deems prohibited within 24 hours and to provide a performance bond of S$50,000.
  • Generally, it is expected that the new licensing regime does not cover individual bloggers or commentators if their activities are limited to expressing personal views on current affairs and trends.
  • Notably, the Government has stated that it is currently reviewing whether the new licensing framework would be extended to overseas-based websites, which will be addressed in the upcoming amendments to the Broadcasting Act. As part of the Government's legislative intentions, it is expected that overseas-websites specifically targeting the Singapore market will also be subject to the same regulatory framework.