Sunday 10 November 2013

MDA blocks extramarital dating website Ashley Madison in Singapore

By Walter Sim And Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2013

EXTRAMARITAL dating website Ashley Madison has been banned here, after Singaporeans objected to its recent announcement that it was setting up a local portal.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) said yesterday that it has worked with Internet service providers to block access to the site.

Normal attempts to access the Canadian-based website from within Singapore brought the following message: "The website you are trying to access is restricted by the MDA."

The site's ".sg" domain featured a woman holding a finger to her lips, with the site announcing it was "coming in November", and inviting people to register.

The MDA said the Government has a pragmatic and light- touch approach to regulating the Internet, and that it blocks a limited number of sites - most of which are pornographic - as a "symbolic statement".

But Ashley Madison was targeted because it "stood out".

"It aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs and has declared that it will specifically target Singaporeans," said the MDA.

"It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison to promote its website in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality."

But the authority recognises that site blocking is "not a perfect way" because it can be circumvented.

Ashley Madison, which was set to be launched here in the week of Nov 17 at the earliest, would have been made available in all four official languages, The Straits Times understands.

Members pay the website to contact each other. The brand reached Asia this year, first with a Japan site in June, followed by a Hong Kong site in August.

Many Singaporeans, including Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, have rejected the proposed local edition.

Almost 27,000 people showed their opposition by supporting a "Block Ashley Madison - Singapore" Facebook page.

The National Family Council yesterday said it welcomed the MDA move to block access to the website, which is "detrimental to the foundations of a family".

Chairman Ching Wei Hong said: "We are heartened by the responses of many Singaporeans who stood together with us... upholding the importance of commitment and fidelity in marriage."

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said he was "happy" to hear of the ban.

He had filed a question for the Parliament session next Monday asking whether the site would be allowed here.

"It is true that if people want to cheat, they can seek other avenues. But we should not make it any easier, knowing full well the intentions of the website," he said.

But others like marriage counsellor Tammy Fontana, 43, did not think banning the site would reduce instances of adultery.

The lead therapist of All In The Family Counselling said: "People have been cheating long before there have been websites."

Ashley Madison unlikely to take up ads in Singapore: Yaacob Ibrahim
By Chitra Kumar, Channel NewsAsia, 11 Nov 2013

It is unlikely that extra-marital dating website Ashley Madison will be taking up any advertisements in local media, now that access to its site has been blocked.

Communications and Information Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said this in a written parliamentary reply to a question by MP for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng.

Advertising in Singapore is largely self-regulated by the industry through the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), an advisory council to the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).

The Media Development Authority (MDA) will work with ASAS to discourage advertisements of such services.

Dr Yaacob said the government adopts a pragmatic and light-touch approach to regulating Internet content.

The Internet Code of Practice allows MDA to work with internet service providers to block certain sites which contain prohibited content.

He added that the government recognises that site blocking is not a perfect way of denying access to prohibited content, as it can be circumvented.

But he said there are many sites with undesirable content on the Internet and it is not practical to block every one of them.

Besides Ashley Madison, Dr Yaacob shared that there are many other websites available on the internet which promote non-monogamous relationships and extra-marital affairs and that it is not possible for the MDA to block every website.

Apart from MDA, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority has powers to reject an application to register a business entity in Singapore, said Family and Social Development Minister Chan Chun Sing.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has powers to dissolve registered societies that are prejudicial to the welfare or good order in Singapore, he added.

Mr Chan said this in a written reply to a question in parliament by MP for Aljunied GRC Pritam Singh.

Mr Pritam Singh had asked about the government's approach in dealing with societal agents and forces that harm the institution of marriage, with regard to the community reaction to Ashley Madison in Singapore.

Mr Chan said there is only so much the government can do with regulation.

He said couples today experience other work and life stresses that impact their marriages.

To strengthen marriages, the Social and Family Development Ministry (MSF) works with partners on promotion and education efforts.

For example, MSF works with employers, community organisations and the media to run marriage preparation and enrichment programmes, including smaller-scale programmes at individual organisations as well as large-scale initiatives such as the annual Marriage Convention.

Mr Chan said under the recently announced Family Matters! initiative, the ministry will continue to expand such family promotion and education efforts.

Adultery portal's retort: 'We didn't invent infidelity'
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 10 Nov 2013

Extramarital dating website Ashley Madison said it is "disappointed" by the Media Development Authority (MDA) decision to block it in Singapore.

It labelled the government action "over-bearing", noting that its website is available in more than 30 countries.

Chief executive Noel Biderman, 42, maintained that his website "does not aggressively promote extramarital affairs" but provides a platform for like-minded people to meet and is no different than other available dating sites here.

The Canada-based company also argued that it was not breaking any laws by coming to Singapore as adultery is not illegal here. Mr Biderman also said his website "didn't invent infidelity".

The company said it was consulting its legal advisers to determine its legal rights to challenge the Singapore Government action.

The MDA said last Friday that it has worked with Internet service providers to block access to the site which "stood out (because) it aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs and has declared that it will specifically target Singaporeans".

The website entered the Asian market this year, first in Japan in June, followed by Hong Kong in August. Members pay the website to contact one another.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said at a community event yesterday that although blocking the website was not a perfect solution, it was something the MDA had to do "primarily because we have to show to Singaporeans that we care about things which are important for us".

"And in this particular instance, they especially target Singaporeans, so it is very clear that they want to set up shop here and promote things that run counter to our values," said Dr Yaacob. "So we decided, better to not wait for them to set up here and just tell them they are not welcome here, because we have to safeguard our family values."

About 27,000 Singaporeans have also supported a "Block Ashley Madison - Singapore" Facebook page. Its founder, a 34-year-old businessman who wanted to be known only as Mr Ng, said he was happy with the decision, and that Mr Biderman "must be feeling defeated".

"He says he is not promoting infidelity, but he needs to read his own tagline again - 'Life is short. Have an affair'. What's the difference between that and infidelity?

"It may be true that Ashley Madison did not invent infidelity, but if we have an inflicted wound we do not press the wound and infect it further," he said.

"In Ashley Madison, we have a potential catalyst driving an orchestrated attempt to propagate infidelity, which may lead to further exponential growth," he added.

Flawed concept of 'mature' society

THE Media Development Authority's decision to block infidelity website Ashley Madison ("MDA blocks extramarital dating website"; last Saturday) has led to comments that the ban may go against a "mature" society where citizens should be entrusted to make their own decisions.

Based on this flawed concept, one could also argue for allowing drug pushers, pimps and child pornographers to roam freely in the public space, and that "mature" citizens would instinctively decline their services.

Some Singaporeans may feel the ban means little because people who want to cheat on their spouses would still cheat.

While this may be true, it is still important to block harmful websites like Ashley Madison, just as some pornographic sites have been blocked and should remain blocked in Singapore, although this does not completely prevent people here from accessing online pornography.

I hope Singaporeans will show moral support for the ban on Ashley Madison, and display no sympathy towards its chief executive, Mr Noel Biderman.

In media reports, Mr Biderman was quoted as saying he is faithful to his wife and would never cheat on her. This suggests that he fully recognises how adultery wrecks marriages and families. Therefore, it is hypocritical of him to make a living out of facilitating adultery among readily tempted people.

The decision to block Ashley Madison sends a strong signal that adultery has not been "upgraded" to the mainstream in Singapore society, and that it remains very much a misdemeanour behind closed doors between two adults who really should know better.

Chan Yeow Chuan
ST Forum, 12 Nov 2013

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