Below is the government's reply in Parliament (3 April 2006) regarding the use of podcasts and other new technologies during elections. The election advertising laws create three categories of people, each treated differently. (See the earlier post below for more details.) First: political parties, which can use some of the internet's features to campaign. Second: non-party sites that have been told to register as political sites; these are banned from internet campaigning (defined very broadly). Third: all other individuals and groups, whose status remains unclear despite the government's statements. It would seem that individuals are free to share their views about the elections, until they are identified as "political" and told to register under the Internet Code of Practice, which would turn them into "relevant persons" under the Parliamentary Elections Act and pushing them into the second category above. That's the thrust of paragraph 5 in the government's reply below. Less clear is paragraph 7: it's not apparent which legislation this restriction comes from.
QUESTION NO. *424 FOR ORAL ANSWER
Mr Low Thia Khiang: To ask the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts whether the Government intends to change the laws and regulations concerning the use of Internet and new technologies such as podcasts for campaigning during the General Election and, if so, what will be the main changes and when will such changes be made public.
Response from the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan:
1. Currently, there are several pieces of legislation and guidelines which cover Internet campaigning issues or which touch on such matters. These include the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) and the Election Advertising Regulations under the PEA, and the Class Licence Scheme and the Internet Code of Practice administered by the Media Development Authority (MDA).
2. Political parties, candidates and election agents are permitted to use the Internet for election advertising based on a “positive list” of activities listed in the Election Advertising Regulations.
3. The “positive list” ensures the responsible use of the Internet during the elections. In a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public. The Government has always maintained that political debates should be premised on factual and objective presentation of issues and arguments. The regulations governing Internet campaigning have served well to safeguard the seriousness of the electoral process.
4. Political parties, candidates and their election agents will continue to be guided by the “positive list” in the Election Advertising Regulations in the coming general elections. Party political websites must be registered with the MDA. Failure to register is a breach of the class licence conditions.
5. Private or individual bloggers can discuss politics. However, if they persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore , they are required to register with the MDA. During the election period, these registered persons will not be permitted to provide material online that constitutes election advertising.
6. Mr Low has asked about podcasting. I take podcasting to mean the provision of an audio feed over the Internet to subscribers. As I have noted, during the election period, political parties, candidates and election agents must keep to permitted election advertising set out in the “positive list”. Podcasting does not fall within this list.
7. There are also some well-known local blogs run by private individuals who have ventured into podcasting. The content of some of these podcasts can be quite entertaining. However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations. A similar prohibition would apply to the videocasting, or video streaming of explicitly political content.
8. At this point, the Government has no intention to amend the legislation regulating Internet campaigning during an election. But the review of government regulations is a continual process so as to ensure that they are kept up-to-date. We recognise that in our society, people will have their diverse opinion and some will want to share their opinion. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the Internet to manipulate public opinion. It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner.