The buzz in the Singapore Internet community this week is about MDA’s new licensing requirements for news websites. Many people were outraged by the move. Some people, such as bloggers, see the new updated licensing framework as an attempt to censor and clamp down on what they can write. However, with a few exceptions, the tweaked regulations don’t actually change anything for most bloggers. In fact, it is easy to circumvent the regulations too.
Just to recap, MDA’s new requirements apply to news websites if both the following two conditions are met:
- Report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months;
- Visited by at least 50K unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months.
Singapore bloggers may find it difficult to escape the first condition. If they live or work in Singapore, and like to post about anything under the sun, then there is a good chance that they want to talk about Singapore news and current affairs. This post, for example, would qualify as reporting on Singapore current affairs.
An easy way out, of course, is to limit your posts about Singapore to less than once a week. Or, less than eight times over a two month period. But clearly this is a limitation on your freedom to post about anything you want. It is, nevertheless, still an option.
The next condition about 50K unique Singapore IP addresses is a rather unusual way to determine the reach of a website. I can think of many problems with this.
- Firstly, website owners have to figure out which IP addresses belong to Singapore. I’m sure there may be some log analytics software that can produce this information. However, a popular web log analyser, awstats, doesn’t do that (at least not that I’m aware of). Will MDA put the burden on website owners to figure this out?
- Next, the count of unique Singapore IP addresses is somewhat ambiguous. Many Singapore users acces the web through their service provider’s proxy server. Users with unique Singapore IP addresses behind the proxy server will all be presented as a single IP address, of the proxy server, to the website. I presume that the MDA folks are not that incompetent to not understand this.
- Suppose you host your website behind a content distribution network, or simply use a cloud caching service like CloudFlare. Now you wouldn’t even really know who visits your website. Alright, CloudFlare does provide some analytics, but I’m not sure if that also includes unique IP address counts per month, per country.
Now, an interesting question is this: Most bloggers don’t even host their own websites. The blogs are hosted on providers located outside Singapore. Surely the providers are not expected to register for licenses. Then, are the customers expected to be responsible to register for individual licenses? Even when the content is not hosted in Singapore?
What about publishing platforms like, say, Facebook Pages? We would absolutely have no clue about IP address sources of the page visitors. I can’t imagine that MDA would expect such platforms, or page owners, to go apply for a license.
Frankly, I don’t think know what MDA hopes to achieve. Most casual bloggers, like myself, are probably not going to be affected. The sites that matter, like say therealsingapore.com, probably escape MDA’s jurisdiction anyway.
In the end, this attempt to make more consistent their licensing framework seems to be futile. What does MDA hope to achieve?
Officially, MDA says they are trying to bring greater clarity on the existing requirements within the Class License and Internet Code of Practice. I have some great suggestions how MDA could have done this: just tell us about them. No need to come down all high and mighty about licensing requirements. The $50K security bond, which licensees are expected to put up, will certainly ask qualifying news websites to voluntarily shut themselves down.
So, I arrive at the same conclusion that everyone has jumped to. It’s about censorship.
I’m just very puzzled about why they need to do it now. It isn’t really going to work.
Anyway, here are some ideas for what Singapore bloggers can do:
- Post less often about Singapore. Batch up your posts to less than 8 over 2 months. I don’t see why you couldn’t talk about multiple unrelated things in the same post. Oh wait, they will be related anyway. They are about Singapore news and current affairs after all.
- Alternatively, you could continuously append to an existing post. You know how it is like with developing stories on news websites, where the article gets updated as more information comes in. Yes, our that one post will be a continuously updated story about Singapore news and current affairs.
- Host your website with some overseas provider; don’t run any web analytics; use a content delivery network like CloudFlare. Do whatever it is so that you have no clue how many unique Singapore IP addresses visit your website.
So there you have it. Avoiding the new MDA licensing requirements is easy.