Friday 28 November 2014

Yaacob Ibrahim: Striking the right balance in media regulation

Hard task as media evolves; policies must be adjusted over time: Yaacob
By Tham Yuen-C and Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2014

STRIKING the right balance in an evolving media landscape is a difficult task, and Singapore may not get it right initially, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

But it should not give up on regulation and should learn to adjust its policies over time, he added.

Singapore needs to ask itself "what is critical for us to preserve, (while keeping the) balance at the same time, when we manage the media landscape", he said.

In a lecture on media convergence at the National University of Singapore (NUS) last night, Dr Yaacob said that many countries were also grappling with the issue of content providers on the Internet delivering similar services as traditional media like television stations.

For instance, Britain is considering applying the regulatory framework for TV to some aspects of the Internet, while Malaysia is working on putting up a firewall to block content that does not adhere to its content guidelines.

Dr Yaacob said Singapore would have to find an approach that "works for Singapore and Singaporeans". To do so, its media laws and regulations - largely unchanged in the last 20 years - would have to be updated so they remain relevant, he added.

Referring to an ongoing review of the media regulatory framework, Dr Yaacob said there were a few areas of focus.

First, to level the playing field between local and foreign content providers, as recommended by the Media Convergence Review Panel in November 2012.

Second, to introduce more comprehensive safeguards to prevent foreign interests from influencing local politics through media platforms.

Third, to update the Broadcasting Act to reflect the new environment and practices.

He said the Government would continue its light-touch approach on regulating the Internet, a move it adopted in 1996 when the Class Licence Scheme, which governs websites and Internet service providers, was introduced.

He added that the Government would consult widely on the proposed changes and gave the assurance that the final framework will provide a range of options.

"If you take a singular approach, Singaporeans will be poorer for it," he said.

Dr Yaacob also said the Internet had opened up new opportunities, which the Government would not ignore.

A committee, led by the private sector, is developing an integrated master plan for infocomm and media, with the aim of creating opportunities for economic growth and social cohesion.

The Government has also increased its investment in public service broadcasts to boost local content development, he added.

"The Government wants local content to thrive. Local content cannot be created by Hollywood. It speaks to who we are and is relevant to us," he said.

During the accompanying dialogue with NUS alumni and students, Dr Yaacob was asked for his response to the view that the Government should not intervene in what people see as personal choices, like homosexuality.

He said while society should evolve together, it also had to consider the dominant value at a point in time. "The position we've taken is live and let live... we have to preserve the largest common ground possible, so that all groups understand that this common space we have created is something we can all share," he said.

Communications teams need to work more closely with policymakers: Yaacob
By Monica Kotwani and Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Nov 2014

The Government recognises that there is room to simplify some of its policies, in order for people to understand them better. And this may require the communications departments to work more closely with policymakers.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim shared this during a Question and Answer segment of a forum held at the National University of Singapore on Wednesday evening (Nov 26).

Dr Yaacob said there has been feedback that policies like the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life are complex and some have asked if they can be simplified. But he also emphasised that the Government is dealing with complex issues such as an ageing society and the need for a universal medical scheme.

He said that the Government is working to get its communications and policy people to work together at an early stage to improve the way such policies are communicated.

Dr Yaacob also addressed concerns from the audience on data protection as Singapore moves towards its vision of becoming a Smart Nation. He said data is needed to become a Smart Nation and to come up with new services and policies, but that this will be protected and anonymised.


Dr Yaacob was also asked to comment on local television content and how it can be made more interesting for the Singapore audience. He said the Government has invested heavily in public service broadcasting, and - together with MediaCorp - is producing content that is relevant to Singaporeans.

He said: "We must give local content a chance. From the quality point of view, MediaCorp will have to ramp up its capability and produce good quality content, but accessibility is also important so that ordinary Singaporeans can see it and will want to watch it.

"But by and large, in the last few months, you can see the figures in terms of eyeballs watching local content is ramping up quite gently after a lot of effort on our part together with MediaCorp, because I think they are trying their very best."


Meanwhile, Dr Yaacob said the aim of the online news licensing scheme, which was introduced last year, was to give parity to online news sites and traditional news platforms.

While this brought about a lot of reactions, he said the move placed the online and traditional news sites on a more consistent regulatory basis.

Dr Yaacob said licensing does not affect the everyday operations of online news sites.

"They still enjoy the same level of freedom - under the same content standards found in the class licence. So really nothing has changed, but we recognise that because as news sites you are reporting on Singapore, traditional mainstream media is also reporting on Singapore and so therefore, we have to find parity between the two platforms," he said.

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