The fact that the draconian new licensing scheme for online news sites was foisted on the Internet public with hardly any notice, much less any consultation with the concerned public or debate in Parliament does not bear the hallmark of a government that is confident of clinching GE 2016 or people-oriented. Very craftily, Dr.Yaacob Ibrahim presented ten news websites which included seven Singapore Press Holdings sites, two Mediacorp sites and Yahoo Singapore which required licensing from 1st June and pledged that other Internet users or bloggers would be free to continue to criticise the government without fear of governmental restrictions, unless racial and religious issues were involved. The PAP Government hopes that in this way it will be able to pull a wool over the public's eyes and deflect any agitation from the Internet public against the licensing scheme.
The groundswell of resistance against the scheme was something which the PAP Government may or may not have expected and Dr. Yaacob became the PAP hatchet man to try to manage damage control. The bloggers formed a "Free the Internet" movement to spearhead and co-ordinate action to pressurise the Government to rescind the licensing scheme which is regarded as a sinister move by the Government to clamp down on dissent. On this Dr. Yaacob and the Media Development Authority (MDA) are seen to be strenously working to try to assure the Internet public that the Government has no such intention but the bloggers remained adamant and would accept nothing short of rescinding the sinister scheme.
The resistance to the licensing scheme does not confine to local bloggers and has attracted world-wide concern which should give the Internet public a well-deserved fillip to their movement. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) -comprising Internet giants Facebook, Google, eBay, Yahoo and Salesforce - has entered the fray and has written to the Singapore Government questioning, among other things, in particular the clause which empowers the Singapore authorities to ask a licensed news website to take down an article within 24 hours.
The United States government has also weighed in on the issue with the State Department saying that it was "deeply concerned" by the "restrictive policy requiring the licensing of news websites. The State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said: we urge Singapore to ensure freedom of expression is protected in accordance with its international obligations and commitments. Later when asked for response to Ms Psaki's general comments, the Straits Times was referred to what Dr. Yaacob had said in Parliament in response to concerns on the rules raised by MPs. As expected, Dr. Yaacob had nothing new to offer but simply repeated with a deadpan face like a parrot the hackneyed statement that the licensing of online news sites is meant to ensure responsibility among news providers and bring greater regulatory parity across various media platforms. He also repeatedly assured that the new rules will not stifle creativity or freedom of speech on the Internet.
It is doubtful if such monotonous and meaningless utterances will go down well with the Internet public. The bloggers are a determined lot and the fight for justice will go on relentlessly until one party yields to the other. The PAP Government is, as the Chinese saying goes, "Riding a tiger and difficult to get off" (騎虎難下）