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Feb 14, 2009

Cyber Regulations

Netizens to decide
By Li Xueying

SENIOR Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew yesterday stated categorically that he was not pushing for more Internet regulation when he criticised netizens for not rebutting online attacks on MP Seng Han Thong.

On Wednesday, he expressed disappointment that the online community had not done more to respond to nasty comments such as those who said that Mr Seng, who was set on fire by a resident last month, deserved to be assaulted.

Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said it was 'a squandered opportunity for a higher degree of self-regulation'.

'Many of those responses were not rebutted or answered, and I think it is not healthy for some of this to remain on the Net unchallenged, unquestioned and unanswered,' he had added.

Yesterday, during the Budget debate on estimates for the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, he said netizens could have misunderstood his earlier comments.

'They seem to have misconstrued my remarks as 'a desire for more regulation on the Internet',' he said.

'Let me say clearly that I am not advocating this position.'

RADM Lui said that self-regulation of conduct online was what some bloggers had in fact been asking for.

He noted that in responding to the report by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, a group of bloggers proposed that community moderation replace the Government's lighter-touch regulatory approach.

'It is for the online community to decide if there should be self-regulation or not,' he said yesterday.

'Likewise, it is for them to deliberate on how online postings could be self-regulated or moderated.'

Meanwhile, he added, 'the Government will continue with its promised lighter touch regulatory approach, and would engage netizens in a constructive and beneficial way'.

Internet users interviewed said the very nature of the medium made regulation of any sort, including self-regulation, difficult if not impossible.

Mr James Seng, founder of blog aggregator, noted that China, for instance, had not been able to regulate the Internet despite pouring massive resources into its 'Great Firewall of China'. It also backed away from requiring bloggers to register in 2007.

RADM Lui, in his remarks yesterday during the Budget debate, also tackled the subject of the Government's e-engagement strategy, raised by Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC).

Mr Zaqy noted that many were unhappy that the Government would engage netizens only via the website of Reach - its feedback unit - for now and called on it to be 'more accessible'.

'Otherwise, we will lose an entire online generation who could have had the opportunity to grow and engage with this Government, the same way as the previous generations grew with and engaged the Government using the traditional media and broadcast communications,' he said.

He acknowledged that it would be 'an onerous task' for the Government to engage its critics one-on-one online.

'But technology today allows it if we are prepared to spare the investment and manpower,' he argued.

Singapore had already developed sophisticated projects such as online tax filing systems, he noted. 'I am sure the Government can consider implementing relevant infrastructure to be able to strengthen the connection between the Government and its citizens in a big way.'

In his response, RADM Lui reiterated that the Government was 'not closed to the idea of engaging on other objective and credible sites in future'.

As the Internet is a 'relatively new mode of communication', it needs time and resources to build up additional manpower capacity and skills, he said.

Thus, his ministry has been recruiting information officers, conducting new media training and sharing relevant knowledge with other agencies.

'Over time, e-engagement will augment the wide range of channels the Government uses to communicate and reach out to the public,' he promised.

RADM Lui yesterday also disclosed that his ministry and the Education Ministry would contribute a total of $10 million over five years to the new inter-ministry task force on cyber wellness.

The task force, to be co-chaired by the deputy secretaries from both ministries, will co-ordinate national efforts and strategise how children can be protected against the dangers of the Internet.

Source: The Straits Times, Saturday, Feb 7, 2009



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