Media

Regulatory and institutional structure

Summarise the regulatory framework for the media sector in your jurisdiction.

The IMDA is the statutory body responsible for broadcasting and content regulation (irrespective of the transmission medium) and the primary applicable legislation is the IMDA Act and the Broadcasting Act. The IMDA was formally established on 1 October 2016 as a converged regulator for the info-communications and media sectors. At present, the telecoms and media sectors continue to be governed by separate regulatory frameworks.

Under the existing framework, ‘media’ is defined in the IMDA Act as referring to any film, newspaper, broadcasting service or publication (as defined in the Films Act, Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the Broadcasting Act and the Undesirable Publications Act respectively). The Minister may further specify in the Gazette any other thing to be included under ‘media’.

In respect of policy formulation, the IMDA consults a number of committees in creating and developing its regulatory framework. These include various programme advisory committees for broadcast programmes in different languages, and a number of other consultative panels. Their members are drawn from a cross-section of society and the media industry.

Furthermore, under the existing framework at the time of writing, content and broadcasting regulation remain separate from infrastructure regulation. Therefore, firms should be mindful that they must comply with both the licensing and regulatory requirements imposed by the IMDA for content and broadcasting, as well as for the establishment and operation of any infrastructure.

Ownership restrictions

Do any foreign ownership restrictions apply to media services? Is the ownership or control of broadcasters otherwise restricted? Are there any regulations in relation to the cross-ownership of media companies, including radio, television and newspapers?

Foreign investors

There are provisions under the Broadcasting Act regulating foreign participation in a broadcasting company. Prior approval of the IMDA must be obtained if a person wishes to receive funds from a foreign source to finance any broadcasting service owned or operated by a broadcasting company (section 43(1) of the Broadcasting Act). In addition, no company (unless the Minister approves otherwise) is to be granted or permitted to hold a relevant licence (as defined in the Broadcasting Act) if the Minister is satisfied that any foreign source, alone or together with one or more foreign sources:

  • holds no less than 49 per cent of the shares in the company or its holding company;
  • is in a position to control voting power of no less than 49 per cent in the company or its holding company; or
  • all or a majority of the persons having the direction, control or management of the company or its holding company are appointed by, or accustomed or under an obligation to act in accordance with the directions of, any foreign source.

 

Ownership controls

The Broadcasting Act contains ownership and control provisions that apply to broadcasting companies as defined therein. A ‘broadcasting company’ is a Singapore-incorporated company or Singapore branch office that holds a ‘relevant licence’. A relevant licence refers to any free-to-air licence, or any broadcasting licence under which a subscription broadcasting service may be provided, that permits a broadcast capable of being received in 50,000 dwelling houses (which is defined to include hotels, inns, boarding houses and other similar establishments) or more. In addition, the Minister may designate any other broadcasting licence as a relevant licence on public interest or national security grounds. A class licence will not be considered a relevant licence.

Under the Broadcasting Act, no person may, on or after 2 September 2002, become a substantial shareholder, a 12 per cent controller or an indirect controller of a broadcasting company without first obtaining the approval of the Minister. The term ‘substantial shareholder’ is defined under section 81 of the Companies Act and generally refers to a person who has an interest in not less than 5 per cent of the voting shares in a company. The terms ‘12 per cent controller’ and ‘indirect controller’ are defined in section 36 of the Broadcasting Act.

Pursuant to section 33(2) of the Broadcasting Act, unless the IMDA approves otherwise, the CEO of a broadcasting company and at least half of its directors must be citizens of Singapore. A broadcasting company may request to be exempt from this requirement, and exemptions have been made by the Minister.

Notably, the category of niche subscription television licensees has been exempted from all foreign ownership restrictions.

Broadcasting licensees that are regulated persons (within the meaning of section 2 of the IMDA Act) are subject to the provisions on consolidations and mergers in the IMDA Act and currently, the Media Market Conduct Code (MMCC). However, the IMDA is currently reviewing and developing a converged competition code to govern competition and market-related matters in both the telecoms and media markets, which will supersede the MMCC when it comes into effect.

 

Cross-ownership

No regulations specifically prohibit the cross-ownership of media companies, including radio, television and newspapers. Such mergers and acquisitions between media companies are regulated by the IMDA. The prior written approval of the IMDA is required for all consolidations or mergers between a regulated person (as defined in the IMDA Act) and another regulated person, or any other person (not being a regulated person) carrying on business in the media industry (section 65 of the IMDA Act). Paragraph 8 of the MMCC details the IMDA’s regulation of such consolidation activities. Intra-group consolidations are exempted from the requirement to obtain the IMDA’s approval under paragraph 8.2 of the MMCC.

Licensing requirements

What are the licensing requirements for broadcasting, including the fees payable and the timescale for the necessary authorisations?

Under section 5 of the Broadcasting Act, the IMDA may grant two types of licences: broadcasting licences and broadcasting apparatus licences.

 

Broadcasting licences

To broadcast programmes in Singapore, a person must obtain a broadcasting licence from the IMDA. Broadcasting licences may be granted for the following categories of licensable broadcasting services:

  • free-to-air nationwide, localised and international television services;
  • subscription nationwide, localised and international television services;
  • niche subscription television services;
  • special interest television services;
  • free-to-air nationwide, localised and international radio services;
  • subscription nationwide, localised and international radio services;
  • special interest radio services;
  • audio-text, video-text and teletext services;
  • video-on-demand services;
  • broadcast data services; and
  • computer online services.

 

Listed below are the licence fees that have been published by the IMDA as payable for the following broadcasting services:

  • 2.5 per cent of total revenue or $250,000 per annum, whichever is higher, and a performance bond of $200,000 for free-to-air nationwide television and radio service licences;
  • S$5,000 per annum for a subscription international television services licence (commonly known as a satellite broadcasting licence). A performance bond of S$50,000 must be given to the IMDA by broadcasters not based or registered in Singapore. The performance bond must be issued by a financial institution approved by the IMDA;
  • 2.5 per cent of total revenue for a nationwide subscription television licence, subject to a minimum licence fee of S$50,000 per year throughout. In addition, a performance bond of S$200,000 must be furnished; and
  • S$1,000 per year for a television receive-only (TVRO) licence (per satellite dish). For a temporary TVRO licence, the licence fee is $100 per dish for a period of up to 30 days.

 

Section 8(2) of the Broadcasting Act provides that a broadcasting licence must be in such a form and for such a period and may contain such terms and conditions as the IMDA may determine. The Broadcasting Act sets out certain conditions that licensees must comply with, such as compliance with the IMDA’s codes of practice and certain public service broadcasting obligations. Templates of such licences are not publicly available. The IMDA has not indicated publicly how long it will take to process all licence applications. Generally speaking, applicants may need to factor in several weeks for their applications to be processed, depending on whether all the information required for the IMDA’s evaluation purposes has been submitted. For more complex or novel applications, the IMDA may take longer.

In addition to the individual broadcasting licences listed above, there is also a class-licensing regime. The IMDA has specified that the following licensable broadcasting services are subject to the class licence regime:

  • audio-text, video-text and teletext services;
  • broadcast data services;
  • virtual area network computer online services; and
  • computer online services that are provided by internet content providers and ISPs.

 

A company wishing to provide a licensable broadcasting service that is subject to the class licence regime must register with the IMDA. In particular, audio-text service providers and internet service providers (ISPs) must register with the IMDA within 14 days of commencing the service. The IMDA’s guidelines state that a completed application will be processed within four working days.

All class licensees must comply with the licence conditions contained in the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification. In addition, internet content providers and ISPs must comply with the Internet Code of Practice (available at https://www.imda.gov.sg/). The yearly fees payable for the services listed below have been published in the Schedule of the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification:

  • S$2,000 for the provision of teletext services;
  • S$1,000 for the provision of computer online services by internet access service providers;
  • S$1,000 for the provision of computer online services by non-localised internet service resellers (with 500 or more user accounts);
  • S$100 for the provision of computer online services by non-localised internet service resellers (with less than 500 user accounts); and
  • S$100 (per premise) for the provision of computer online services by a localised internet service reseller.

 

The fees payable for the services not mentioned in the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification are not publicly available. If broadcasting infrastructure is to be deployed, a separate licence from the IMDA may also be required.

 

Broadcasting apparatus licences

To install, import, sell or operate any broadcasting apparatus in Singapore, a person must obtain a licence from the IMDA under section 20 of the Broadcasting Act. This requirement applies to apparatus currently listed under the First Schedule to the Broadcasting Act (ie, TVRO system). The IMDA retains the discretion to exempt any person or broadcasting apparatus (or class thereof) from this licence requirement.

Foreign programmes and local content requirements

Are there any regulations concerning the broadcasting of foreign-produced programmes? Do the rules require a minimum amount of local content? What types of media fall outside this regime?

There are no express regulations concerning the broadcast of foreign programmes, irrespective of media type. Such broadcasts are, however, subject to paragraph 16 of the Schedule of the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification that states that an internet content provider licensee shall remove or prohibit the broadcast of the whole or any part of a programme included in its service if the IMDA informs the licensee that its broadcast is against the public interest, public order or national harmony, or offends good taste or decency.

There are no explicit rules requiring a minimum amount of local content. However, under section 17 of the Broadcasting Act, the IMDA may require a broadcasting licensee to broadcast programmes provided by the IMDA or the Singapore government as a condition of its licence, including the following:

  • programmes for schools or other educational programmes;
  • news and information programmes produced in Singapore or elsewhere;
  • arts and cultural programmes; and
  • drama and sports programmes produced in Singapore.

 

Further, free-to-air television and subscription television broadcasting licensees may be subject to programme codes issued by the IMDA containing programming and content guidelines, such as the Content Code for Nationwide Managed Transmission Linear Television Services and the Content Code for Over-the-Top, Video-on-Demand and Niche Services. Generally, programme codes will contain guidelines congruent with national objectives, uphold racial and religious harmony, observe societal and moral standards and promote positive family values.

Section 19 of the Broadcasting Act also provides for a must-carry obligation.

Advertising

How is broadcast media advertising regulated? Is online advertising subject to the same regulation?

At present, stricter content standards are applied to advertisements in public places (in view of their unsolicited viewing) and in media that have a wider impact on the general public, such as advertisements on TV. The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) lays down broad industry codes and guidelines. The Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) is reviewed periodically by the ASAS and was most recently updated in 2019 to include a chapter on the statutes and statutory instruments that have special relevance to advertising and related trading practices. The basic premise of the SCAP is that all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. The SCAP applies to all advertisements for any goods, services and facilities appearing in any form or any media, including online advertisements in information network services, electronic bulletin boards, online databases and internet services. The SCAP seeks to promote a high standard of ethics in advertising through self-regulation against the background of national and international laws and practices, including the International Code of Advertising Practice published by the International Chamber of Commerce. In August 2016, the ASAS also issued ‘Guidelines for Interactive Marketing Communication & Social Media’ (Interactive and Social Media Guidelines), which set out standards for advertising and marketing communication that appear on interactive and social media. The Interactive and Social Media Guidelines set the standard of ethical conduct that are to be adopted by all marketers, establish the levels of disclosure that are required of sponsored messages that appear on social media, prohibit false reviews and engagement, and dictate the clarity of the purchase process in e-commerce. Between November 2017 and January 2018, the ASAS conducted a public consultation seeking post-implementation feedback on the Interactive and Social Media Guidelines. In particular, it sought feedback on the implementation of the guidelines, and areas where the guidelines might be fine-tuned or updated. At the time of writing, the ASAS has not published its response to the feedback received.

Alongside the ASAS, the IMDA also plays a role in guiding the advertising industry when the need arises. For TV broadcasts, the IMDA issues advertising codes to broadcasters, which are stricter than those for the print media, because of the wider reach of television broadcasts. The IMDA has issued the Television and Radio Advertising and Sponsorship Code (the Advertising Code), which aims to protect the interests of viewers as consumers and require advertisements to be truthful, lawful and not to contain any misleading claims. All claims and comparisons must be capable of substantiation. The Advertising Code requires advertisements to respect public taste and interests and uphold moral and social values. Among other things, the Advertising Code also stipulates that broadcasters should exercise discretion when scheduling advertisements and trailers to ensure that these are appropriate for the viewing audience.

With regard to holders of class licences, paragraph 16 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification states that a licensee shall remove or prohibit the broadcast of the whole or any part of a programme included in its service if the IMDA informs the licensee that its broadcast is against the public interest, public order or national harmony, or offends good taste or decency. In the case of online advertising, internet content providers and ISPs are considered class licensees and must also comply with paragraph 16 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification. In addition, paragraph 13(a) of the same requires licensees to comply with the IMDA’s codes of practice. In this respect, the IMDA-administered Internet Code of Practice requires class licensees to use their best efforts to ensure that prohibited material is not broadcast over the internet to users in Singapore. Examples of prohibited material include, without limitation, content that endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance, and material that depicts extreme violence. Internet content providers and ISPs must also ensure that these advertisements are in line with the SCAP.

Separately, the Undesirable Publications Act prevents the importation, distribution or reproduction of undesirable publications. This may include advertisements that are accessible by computers or other electronic devices, such as online advertisements.

Must-carry obligations

Are there regulations specifying a basic package of programmes that must be carried by operators’ broadcasting distribution networks? Is there a mechanism for financing the costs of such obligations?

The Broadcasting Act provides for a must-carry obligation. Under section 19 of the Broadcasting Act, the IMDA may require a broadcasting licensee to provide for transmission and reception of any broadcasting service that is provided by any other person or that is specified in its licence (see below for details).

Currently, must-carry obligations are imposed on all nationwide subscription TV licensees to allow their subscribers to access all local free-to-air channels on their network.

Paragraphs 2.1.5 and 2.7 of the MMCC establish a cross-carriage measure for the pay-TV sector, under which a mandatory obligation is imposed upon all licensed subscription television service providers who acquire exclusive broadcasting rights to any channel or programming content (supplying licensees) to provide such channels or content for cross-carriage on the pay-TV network of other subscription nationwide television service providers, who are in turn obliged to carry such channels and content on all ‘relevant platforms’ (as defined in paragraph 2.3(ea) of the MMCC) in their entirety, without any alteration or degradation in quality. A relevant platform means a managed network over or using any (or any combination of) hybrid fibre coaxial, optical fibre or asymmetric digital subscriber line. Supplying licensees may stand to benefit from an increased subscriber base, as the MMCC requires that any consumer accessing such cross-carried content shall, for billing and operational purposes, also be considered a subscriber of the supplying licensee. The mandatory cross-carriage obligation applies to all exclusive channel and content arrangements signed or renewed on or after 12 March 2010.

Under paragraph 2.4 of the MMCC, free-to-air television and radio licensees (and any other person as the IMDA may direct) must comply with the IMDA’s requirements regarding the broadcast of events that are of national significance. The IMDA will provide written notification to free-to-air television and radio licensees regarding the events of national significance that they are to broadcast. The IMDA will generally designate only very select events as events of national significance that are to be broadcast live or delayed.

The following events are currently identified in the MMCC as being events of national significance:

  • National Day parade;
  • National Day rally;
  • the Prime Minister’s National Day message;
  • parliamentary proceedings, including the budget speech and debate;
  • general election, by-election and presidential election; and
  • state funerals.

 

The IMDA may specify additional events or remove existing ones.

If it is not desirable for more than one entity to locate cameras and other equipment at the site of such an event, the IMDA may select a broadcaster to be the sole broadcaster for the event (the lead broadcaster) or conduct a competitive tender for the position. The lead broadcaster must make the feed from the event available to all free-to-air television and radio licensees and any other person that the IMDA specifies.

Any television or radio licensee that receives the feed from the lead broadcaster has an obligation to compensate the lead broadcaster for reasonable costs that are not otherwise compensated (eg, through government subsidies) incurred by the lead broadcaster in providing the television or radio licensee with the feed.

Regulation of new media content

Is new media content and its delivery regulated differently from traditional broadcast media? How?

IPTV services

The IMDA adopts a two-tier licensing framework for the provision of internet protocol television (IPTV) services in Singapore: nationwide subscription TV licence and niche TV service licence (niche licence).

The niche licence was introduced to facilitate the growth of IPTV and other novel services in Singapore by offering operators greater flexibility to roll out services for different market segments, with less onerous regulatory obligations. It is for service providers targeting specific niche market segments.

The nationwide subscription TV licence applies to operators targeting the mass market. The first nationwide IPTV licence was awarded to SingNet Pte Ltd (SingNet) in January 2007 for the provision of its mio TV service, which has since been renamed Singtel TV.

Licence applicants are free to decide which licence tier they wish to operate under.

 

Online news sites

Since 1 June 2013, online news sites that report regularly on issues relating to Singapore and have significant reach among local readers are required by the IMDA to obtain an individual licence, placing them on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms that are already individually licensed.

Under the licensing framework, online news sites will be individually licensed if they report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore news and current affairs over a period of two months, and are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months.

These sites were previously automatically class-licensed under the Broadcasting Act. Presently, when the IMDA has assessed that a site has met the criteria to be individually licensed, the IMDA will issue a formal notification, and work with the site to move it to the new licensing framework.

The IMDA has stated that it does not expect any changes in content standards to result. Individually licensed news sites will be expected to comply within 24 hours to the IMDA’s directions to remove content found in breach of content standards and will be required to put up a performance bond of S$50,000.

Digital switchover

When is the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting required or when did it occur? How will radio frequencies freed up by the switchover be reallocated?

Singapore has completed its digital switchover and analogue TV channels have been switched off as of 1 January 2019.

In June 2012, the then Media Development Authority (now IMDA) announced that all free-to-air channels would be transmitted digitally by the end of 2013 using the DVB-T2 (digital video broadcasting – second generation terrestrial) broadcasting standard. In this regard, the nationwide free-to-air broadcaster MediaCorp announced that it would transmit all free-to-air channels in digital format from December 2013. To ensure a smooth switchover, there was a simulcast period during which all free-to-air channels were broadcast in digital and analogue until the switchover was fully completed.

In January 2016, the Ministry of Communications and Information, which is the parent ministry overseeing the IMDA, announced that it aimed to complete the switchover and to switch off analogue broadcasting by the end of 2017. Freed-up spectrum has been reallocated to mobile broadband services in the 2016/2017 spectrum allocation exercise by the IMDA, which administers the allocation of RF spectrum.

In November 2017, the Singapore government announced a further one-year extension of the cessation of analogue broadcast from end-2017 to end-2018. The purpose of this extension was to give households more time to make the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting. On 1 January 2019, the switchover was completed and all broadcast free-to-air TV programmes are now exclusively shown in digital format.

Digital formats

Does regulation restrict how broadcasters can use their spectrum?

The IMDA’s Spectrum Management Handbook explains that planning and channelling of the broadcasting spectrum is carried out at the international level (ITU), regional level (Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, ABU) and bilateral levels (ie, border coordination with neighbouring countries). As such, there are only a certain number of channels in each broadcasting band that can be used in Singapore. The usage plans for broadcasting services have already been established. With the advent of digital broadcasting, the IMDA has also planned the spectrum allocations for both digital audio and digital video broadcasting. To provide broadcasting services, a broadcast service licence and a broadcasting station licence are required from the IMDA.

Media plurality

Is there any process for assessing or regulating media plurality (or a similar concept) in your jurisdiction? May the authorities require companies to take any steps as a result of such an assessment?

Singapore does not currently have a formal process or framework in place to assess media plurality.

Key trends and expected changes

Provide a summary of key emerging trends and hot topics in media regulation in your country.

Introduction of POFMA

With effect from 2 October 2019, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (POFMA) entered into force. The POFMA was enacted to prevent the electronic communication of false statements of fact, in other words, online falsehoods (also colloquially known as 'fake news'), to suppress support for and enable measures to be taken to counteract the effects of such communication; and to prevent the misuse of online accounts and bots (ie, computer programmes that run automated tasks).

A POFMA Office has been specially set up within the IMDA, with the following functions:

  • to issue Directions/Notices upon the instruction of Ministers of the Singapore Government;
  • to administer the Codes of Practice issued to prescribed internet intermediaries and digital advertising intermediaries under the POFMA; and
  • to monitor and enforce compliance with the Directions, Notices and Codes of Practices that have been issued under the POFMA.

 

Since its inception, the POFMA Office has issued three Codes of Practices to ensure that prescribed internet intermediaries and digital advertising intermediaries have adequate systems and processes in place to prevent and counter the misuse of online accounts by malicious actors, enhance the transparency of political advertising, and de-prioritise online falsehoods. These Codes of Practices are:

  • the Code of Practice for Giving Prominence to Credible Online Sources of Information;
  • the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements; and
  • the Code of Practice for Preventing and Countering Abuse of Online Accounts.

 

Goods and Services Tax on imported digital services

With effect from 1 January 2020, Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been imposed on certain businesses that provide imported digital services to consumers in Singapore, such as movie and music streaming services and mobile apps. Under the previous GST rules, services supplied by a supplier who belongs outside Singapore were not subject to GST. The new regime levels the GST treatment for services consumed in Singapore, in particular, for business-to-business services such as marketing, accounting, IT and management, and business-to-consumers services such as online subscription-based media services, apps and software.

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The information provided in this guide is accurate as of 20 March 2020.