The laws and regulations pertaining to political parties and other websites declared as political are now more or less clear (see previous posts below). However, it is still hard to pin down the status of others using the internet - including individual bloggers who occasionally comment on politics, individuals circulating articles to large email lists, and groups that are more organised but haven't yet been asked to register as political sites. These people make up the bulk of political commentators and opinion-sharers nowadays.
The government, in Parliament (see full text below), said that "the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations" and added that there's a similar prohibition applying to the videocasting, or video streaming of explicitly political content. I have yet to find the relevant provisions in the existing laws and regulations. The government appears to be referring to the permitted forms of internet electioneering – the so-called "positive list" in the 2001 Regulations – which does not include audio/video streaming. However, this positive list applies only to parties and candidates. The Regulations are quite unambiguous about this. The positive list appears in a section titled "Division 1 - Candidates and Political Parties", and is introduced with the following preamble: "... only any of the following election advertising and no other may be published by any political party or any candidate or his election agent on what is commonly known as the Internet". There is nothing in the Regulations that states that the positive list applies to anyone other than parties, candidates and their agents.
Note that there is no positive list for registered non-party sites (the so-called "relevant persons" such as Think Centre) for the simple reason that they are completely prohibited from online electioneering. "Division 2 - Relevant persons" is just 4 lines long, banning them from all election advertising. So it is quite clear that any website that's been asked to register as a political site by MDA will certainly not be allowed to used streaming, or any other internet technology, to influence the elections.
However, that still leaves the larger body of groups and individuals who have not yet been asked to register. Until they are asked, can they use the full range of internet technologies freely (subject of course, to all the other laws, such as defamation, sedition and contempt of court)? The government says no, but I am still searching for the basis of that statement.
Another hazy area is mass email, either for email newsletters or petitions. Again, there is explicit mention of these technologies in the 2001 Regulations - but only in the part that deals with parties and candidates. (The rules are described in this blog, 2 posts ago.) However, again it is unclear how these rules could apply to anyone who is neither a party/candidate nor a "relevant person" (registered political group).
The issue of using email is made even more complicated by the fact that the MDA registration requirement is limited to websites, and not users of email. This is because, when the regulations were drawn up in 1996, the authorities were keen to show that they were only interested in "light touch" regulation; they explicitly stated that they were not about to regulate email, considering it to be private communication. At the time, email newsletters had not really taken off, and were hardly used for mass communication.
Hence, according to the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification of 1996: "An Internet Content Provider who is or is determined by the Authority to be a body of persons engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore on the World Wide Web through the Internet, shall register with the Authority within 14 days after the commencement of its service, or within such longer time as the Authority may permit."
I am not a technology expert, but it seems that email does not necessarily use "the World Wide Web", and therefore does not come under the ambit of the regulation. Assuming that is the case, if a person never uses websites and exclusively uses email, the authorities cannot ask him to register, and cannot turn him into a "relevant person" for the purposes of the internet electioneering regulations.
On the whole, it looks like we will soon see changes in the laws and regulations to keep up with changing technologies and trends, and to close loopholes.