Monday, 4 May 2015

The Real Singapore shut down on MDA's orders

Socio-political site The Real Singapore taken down after MDA suspends editors' licence
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 4 May 2015

SOCIO-POLITICAL website The Real Singapore (TRS) was shut down by its editors yesterday, after the Media Development Authority (MDA) suspended their licence to operate the site and ordered them to take it offline.

Explaining this unprecedented step, the MDA said yesterday that TRS had published material that is "objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony".

Noting that at least two out of TRS' three known editors are foreigners, the agency added that the site "sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore" and to "make profit at the expense of Singapore's public interest and national harmony".

The move comes a month after two of the editors behind TRS - Singaporean student Yang Kaiheng, 26, and his Australian girlfriend Ai Takagi, 22 - were charged with sedition for publishing articles that allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes here.

A third editor, Melanie Tan, who is believed to be Malaysian, was not included in the charges.

At a media briefing yesterday, MDA said TRS "deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties", in what the agency believes was an attempt to raise the site's traffic - and thus its advertising dollars.

It also noted that TRS inserted falsehoods in articles so as to make them more inflammatory.

Previous police investigations found that TRS articles targeted Filipinos and Chinese and Indian nationals, among others.

Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun, who teaches communications at the Nanyang Technological University, said MDA's unusual move should serve as a warning about "how vulnerable Singapore can be to external forces through the porous cyberspace".

"It must have been alarming for the authorities and Singaporeans to discover the extent of foreign involvement in a website that has been accused of amplifying social tensions in Singapore," he told The Straits Times.

Yesterday, MDA ordered Yang and Takagi not to post any new articles with immediate effect, and to take down the TRS website and all its online channels - including its social media pages - by 8pm. They did so an hour before the deadline.

If they had not done so, they could have been subject to a maximum fine of $200,000 and/or jailed for up to three years.

MDA also instructed Yang and Takagi not to resume online operations under any other name.

They have been given until May 11 to provide information on TRS' operations, such as its finances, and to submit arguments as to why their licence to operate the site should not be cancelled.

Failure to provide the information could result in a fine of as much as $5,000 each and/or jail time of up to a year.

If their licence is cancelled, Yang and Takagi will not be allowed to operate the website permanently. MDA will also be able to take other actions, including blocking access to the site.

But they can appeal against the suspension and potential cancellation of the licence by writing to Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

Even as the site was taken down last night, several links were circulated online of what appeared to be clones of the site. An MDA spokesman said the agency is looking into the matter.

Former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng, who has campaigned for TRS to be shut down, said MDA's move is not an affront to freedom of speech.

"This is not how freedom of speech is practised in Singapore, nor is it the type that most Singaporeans value," he said.

Media Development Authority did the right thing to shut down The Real Singapore as racial and religious harmony most important: Yaacob Ibrahim.
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, May 10, 2015

'Enough proof to show TRS caused racial unhappiness'
MDA did 'right thing' to shut down TRS as racial and religious harmony most important: Yaacob
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 11 May 2015

SOCIOPOLITICAL site The Real Singapore (TRS) was ordered to shut down because the Government had enough evidence to show it had caused racial unhappiness, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

TRS had deliberately made up articles, according to the Media Development Authority (MDA), and had tried to incite anti-foreigner sentiment and undermine national harmony here.

Police investigations also found that TRS had targeted Filipinos as well as Chinese and Indian nationals, among others.

"We've never shut down a site, so we do this very carefully," said Dr Yaacob, noting without elaboration that the Government has carried out only "27 interventions" since 1996.

"Once you cross the line, and in this case it has, and we have enough evidence to show that all the material is very egregious, and if it actually can cause a lot of racial unhappiness... we have to move," he said.

Last month, two of the editors behind TRS - Singaporean student Yang Kaiheng, 26, and his Australian girlfriend Ai Takagi, 22 - were charged with sedition for publishing articles that allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes here.

The duo are set to appear in court again next Monday.

A third editor was not included in the charges.

Dr Yaacob said the MDA will continue to investigate the "clone sites" that have popped up since TRS was taken offline on May 3.

"The Internet is very wide and very big, but at the end of the day, I think the most important thing for us is to preserve the racial and religious harmony that we have in Singapore," he said.

"If you do business in Singapore, you target our Singapore market, we hope you'll behave accordingly. I think this is the signal we want to send."

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, was speaking to reporters after visiting 10 families that have benefited from Mendaki@Heartlands, satellite offices that are part of Malay self-help group Mendaki's outreach efforts.

The group has reached out to over 9,000 residents since it set up six satellite offices in places such as Pasir Ris and Woodlands over the past two years.

The offices make it more convenient for residents to apply for the group's assistance schemes. Before, they could do so only at Mendaki's headquarters in Kee Sun Avenue in Siglap.

Mendaki staff also go door to door and work with other agencies such as the Social Service Offices to identify those who may need help.

Pasir Ris resident Azlinda Jalil is one who has benefited.

The mother of two children, aged 10 and 11, receives $400 worth of book vouchers annually for stationery and textbooks.

"I'm a single mum, so it isn't easy," said the 44-year-old, who works as a service staff member at a fast-food restaurant.

"Mendaki has helped us a lot."

The couple behind socio-political website The Real Singapore have had their licence to operate the website suspended by MDA.
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, May 3, 2015

MDA’s move reflects light touch towards content regulation: Analysts
By Valerie Koh, TODAY, 4 May 2015

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) decision to act against The Real Singapore reflects the light touch it has pledged towards content regulation, said media observers and academics TODAY spoke to.

Until the “extreme” case of The Real Singapore came along, the authorities had previously not moved to shut down a website using the Broadcasting Act, which the Internet Code of Practice comes under, they noted.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, said the MDA move helped shed some light on how the Internet Code of Practice, which took effect in 1997, can be used.

“The implementation at this stage … is light-handed and used in a fairly extreme case. It’s not just any case that comes along, but one that has public sentiment against it and a court case,” said Prof Ang, noting that there was a petition to shut down the website a year ago.

The MDA's decision to act against The Real Singapore is "light-handed and used in a fairly extreme case", say analysts.(Via TODAY)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said: “This is the first time that MDA has resorted to suspension, but when you put it against the backdrop of TRS’ alleged egregious conduct, it becomes more of a question of when (to suspend), rather than whether.”

The editors of the The Real Singapore appeared to have been testing the limits of the media regulator, said Associate Professor Tan, adding that the MDA has demonstrated their resolve to tackle recalcitrant sites and deter potential copycats.

He also said: “We must be mindful of the rapid and widespread reach that social media sites have. Ultimately, it’s Singaporeans who bear the consequences of their falsehoods.”

Political observer and former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Zulkifli Baharudin felt that rules guiding traditional media should apply to new media as well. “People think because they’re from the Internet, we should not be too harsh to them, and we should expect a certain level of inaccuracies. I don’t buy that,” he said. “Whether you’re a website or not, you have the responsibility — like any other media — to present honest, factual reporting of events.”

However, Assoc Prof Tan pointed out that similar sites could easily be set up outside the MDA’s jurisdiction. Hence, netizens must be media literate and verify online content before spreading it, he said. Commenting on the possibility of copycat sites, former NMP Calvin Cheng said anonymity on the Internet is not a guarantee.

“At the end of the day, nobody is truly anonymous on the Internet. If they break severe enough laws, wherever they are they can be hunted down and international arrest warrants issued,” said Mr Cheng, a member of the Media Literacy Council.

Socio-political websites that operate within Singapore’s laws and social norms have nothing to fear, he added.

JUST IN: Media Development Authority, Singapore orders The Real Singapore admins to disable access to online services within 6 hours, and to stop posting articles immediately.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, May 3, 2015

ICYMI: The Real Singapore website has been shut down. What are some of the locals' reactions?
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Posted by Shut down TRS on Sunday, May 3, 2015

TRS editor's application to visit ailing father in Australia approved; out on $60K bail
Father in intensive care after stroke; accused must return by May 17
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 May 2015

A MAN accused of publishing seditious articles on socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) was given permission to leave the country yesterday to visit his father, who had a stroke last Friday.

Yang Kaiheng, a 26-year-old Singaporean out on $60,000 bail, will have to return from Australia by May 17, a day before his next court appearance.

Before departing, he has to provide a full itinerary and his overseas address and contact number, and remain contactable by the investigation officer. His mother is with his 55-year-old father, who is in intensive care in Brisbane.

The prosecution had initially objected to Yang's application to leave Singapore, but withdrew its objections when Yang's counsel said his Australian fiancee, Ai Takagi, 22, who faces the same charges, could provide information demanded by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

A district judge approved The Real Singapore editor Yang Kaiheng's application to leave for Australia, noting that the...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Monday, May 4, 2015

The MDA on Sunday suspended the editors' licence and ordered the website shut with immediate effect.

It said TRS had published material that was objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony.

Noting that while at least two out of TRS' three known editors were foreigners, the authority said the site sought to incite anti- foreigner sentiments in Singapore, and to make profit at the expense of Singapore's public interest and national harmony.

Yang's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who made the urgent application last Saturday, told District Judge Eddy Tham yesterday that the issue of complying with the MDA's request should not be a reason to hold his client back.

"My client, Mr Yang, is not an editor of the website. That has been his position since the start of investigations," he said.

He told the court that as of Sunday afternoon, Australian doctors had said Yang's father could die in the next two to three days.

In his objection, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan listed the high risk factors, including the fact that Yang is a permanent resident in Australia, owns a property and intends to get a job there.

He said Yang had not cooperated in the investigation, and with MDA now involved, it has only increased his flight risk. But he also expressed sympathy over Yang's circumstances and said if there was some demonstration of good faith of compliance on Yang's part, the prosecution was prepared not to object to him leaving Singapore, given a suitable bail quantum and other bail conditions.

Judge Tham increased his bail by $40,000, and said it was clear the application was not motivated by a desire to avoid justice in Singapore, but by an unfortunate family calamity. He noted that the prosecution had verified the medical condition of Yang's father.

Yang has to provide his lawyer with a medical report every three days, starting today.

Upon his return, he has to surrender his passport to the investigation officer.

Meanwhile, Takagi, who was in court, has to comply with directions to produce documents and information by tomorrow.

Yang and Takagi allegedly published seven seditious articles on the TRS' website and Facebook page between October 2013 and February this year that would promote feelings of ill will and hostility in Singapore.

If convicted, they could be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to three years on each charge.

MDA right to shut down website

I STRONGLY disagree with Maruah Singapore president Braema Mathi's views ("Regulating online space: Engaging stakeholders in dialogue much better"; yesterday).

The Media Development Authority's (MDA) move to close The Real Singapore is correct and should have been done earlier ("Socio-political site shut down on MDA's orders"; Monday).

There have been many police reports lodged against The Real Singapore for spreading rumours with bad intent.

On why the MDA didn't take the same action against other similar sites, closing The Real Singapore should act as a warning to the other sites.

The Real Singapore has misled a lot of followers of the site, with its fabricated stories and damaging information about individuals, just to gain eyeballs, and for financial gain through advertisements. What is worse is that a few of the editors behind the site are foreigners who do not know Singapore well.

We should be wary of websites that try to drive a wedge between people in Singapore. We should not emulate Western-style freedom of speech that could offend the sensitivities of others.

We want freedom of speech, but with accountability.

Sim Lim Onn
ST Forum, 7 May 2015

Engaging stakeholders in dialogue much better

THE suspension of The Real Singapore's licence to operate raises important issues on the freedom of speech ("Socio-political site shut down on MDA's orders"; Monday).

As a human rights organisation, Maruah is deeply concerned with these, and recognises the complexities of reconciling the need for space for free expression and the need for responsible speech.

Much of the content of The Real Singapore goes against what we have championed, namely equality and non-discrimination.

The Real Singapore's sensational journalism and encouragement of xenophobia against foreign workers do, indeed, have to be tackled.

However, the Media Development Authority's (MDA) draconian measures are not the best way to do so, as they legitimise excessive intervention by the state and set a precedent for the diminution of our online space.

The draconian measures are also problematic in terms of their implementation.

As some people have pointed out, some other sites have been just as guilty in stirring hatred, but have been spared punishment.

We suggest that due process and natural justice require that the MDA, at a minimum, notify the editors of The Real Singapore of the specific items of content that the MDA believes to be unlawful, give them a reasonable opportunity to show why the site should not be ordered shut, and provide clear and detailed written grounds for its decision.

In particular, the MDA should explain why it decided to take action against The Real Singapore but not other sites that have published similar content, and why it believes the entire website had to be taken down instead of just the specific articles that it appropriately determines to be unlawful.

We also recommend that government officials openly and publicly engage bloggers and newsmakers of different ilk on an ongoing basis, to develop a better understanding of each other and to enable the Government to respond to inaccuracies and falsehoods in a more timely and effective manner.

The diversity of Singapore's populace is reflected in the diversity of opinions online.

Censoring an entire platform without due process does Singapore and Singaporeans no favours, however much we may dislike its approach or the things it publishes.

Braema Mathi (Ms)
Maruah Singapore
ST Forum, 6 May 2015

TRS' bid to stoke social tension unacceptable

THE Media Development Authority (MDA) strongly disagrees with Ms Braema Mathi's assertions that our actions are "draconian" and "excessive" ("Regulating online space: Engaging stakeholders in dialogue much better"; yesterday).

Based on information that has come to light, The Real Singapore's (TRS) editors Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi were deliberately fabricating articles and inserting falsehoods to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments and undermine Singapore's national harmony.

They did this to attract more readers to TRS, and thus, generate more advertising revenue for themselves. They were, in effect, lining their pockets at Singapore's expense.

Suspending TRS' licence was necessary to ensure Yang and Takagi did not do more damage with their deceitful reporting.

In suspending TRS' licence, the MDA had provided Yang and Takagi our grounds for doing so, including specifying the offending articles that contravened the Internet Code of Practice, and giving them seven days to explain why their licence should not be cancelled. They can also appeal against the suspension. Due process has been followed.

We agree with Ms Mathi that the diversity of Singapore's populace should be reflected in the diversity of opinions online.

But accepting diversity does not mean we also have to accept deceit, fabrications, plagiarism and distortions - all just to make a quick buck.

Ann Chan (Ms)
Media Development Authority
ST Forum, 7 May 2015

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