MDA to keep light-touch approach – Balaji tells Thio

1 March 2008

MDA to keep light-touch approach, will act only upon threat to social harmony

Alicia Wong

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) light-touch policy on online content cannot mean it is “hands off,” said Nominated Member of Parliament (MP), Professor Thio Li-ann on Friday as she highlighted the need to deter “anti-social attacks” online.

The response: The MDA will take action if racial and religious harmony is threatened, but maintain a light-touch approach otherwise.

Prof Thio – who was the subject of much personal attack online for giving a strongly-worded speech on keeping Section 377A, the law on homosexual sex, during a parliamentary debate last year – had wanted to know whether there are well-known complaint channels against suspect online content and how the MDA handled such cases.

“Will the MDA assist the defamed person by helping to identify the relevant ISP (Internet Service Provider) through a search registry?” she asked in Parliament.

She cited a scenario in which a blogger, angered by an academic’s controversial article, set up a website to encourage emails attacking him or writes to the academic’s employer to seek his dismissal.

Prof Thio said: “Is this not a conspiracy to incite harassment against the individual a form of intentional cyber nuisance? Should the state facilitate such online harassment?”

Such intimidation thwarts democratic debate. This is the Internet’s dark side.”

Replying, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan said the MDA would be “vigilant” and manage new media risks to ensure racial harmony. But it will continue with its light-touch approach.

Dr Balaji said people can call or lodge a complaint through the MDA website on offensive online content.

The authority gets one to two such feedback each month.

When it comes to law-breaking, such issues remain “best dealt with through the existing legal and civil channels” as they are outside the MDA’s scope of authority, Dr Balaji said.


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