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Should the symbolic 100-website ban be lifted?

Lim Guohao

In the Year 2010 Censorship Review Committee Report (CRC Report), the Committee recommended that the symbolic 100-website ban imposed by the government should be lifted.

The local government practices a light-touch approach to the Internet regulation in Singapore since July 1996, where users do not require prior approval from MDA to operate a website. However, a 100-website ban was introduced in the 1990s, where the government bans websites that contains mainly pornographic contents, or sites that incite racial and religious intolerance, as a symbol to reflect the community’s stand against objectionable web content and social values.

Many argued that the policy is losing its effectiveness as the Internet is overflowing with excessive information at a rapid rate in which the government may find it hard to control.  However, I feel that the 100-website ban should stay as the policy continues to serve as an important message to the public in regards to non-mainstream ideals or culture. More so, adapting from the Cultivation theory, users, under the intense media usage, will also be cultivated with standardized and acceptable behaviors in Singapore.

Currently, Singapore is encouraging a media environment that fosters 3-prong social responsibility approach, in which more responsibilities are passed down to the media players, parents and individual consumers. However, I feel that the public is not ready to welcome a media environment that is of total-freedom given the followings:

Firstly, when responsibilities were passed down to the media players previously through the recommendation for more Internet content filters, such services were inadequately promoted and the relevant products produced by the media players were minimal. Also, given the survey conducted by the CRC, over 60% of the households with children are not aware of such filters available from the Internet providers, which are Singtel and Starhub.

Furthermore, given the Internet as a targeted medium, the Internet media players did not take the initiative to practice self-censorship by instilling restriction or verification measures to cater to the different needs of the various age groups.

Thus, we can see that the media players are not ready to welcome a total-freedom Internet environment that requires high level of censorship.

Secondly, the public, or more so the parents themselves, felt that they are not ready to take up the full responsibility in controlling the contents the young are accessing on the Internet. In the CRC report survey, 67% of the respondents supported retaining the policy, and 38% of them even recommend the authorities to expand the scope in order to cover more websites for ban. In Singapore, we can observe that there are growing households which having both parents to work in the day, this in turn restricts the ability of them to control their kids from accessing inappropriate contents from the web.   Another reason would be, there are still parents who are not technology-inclined, and they find it impossible to set computer barriers for their kids. Thus, given the lack of cyber wellness knowledge of parents, the policy would be a more effective approach in instilling social values amongst the young.

As for the individual consumers, cyber awareness is still lacking among the users, especially the young, as we see more than 20,000 cyber crime cases per year in Singapore (22,711 in 2005; 19,522 in 2007, Singapore Department of Statistics, 2008). Such figure is worrying, as it ranks Singapore second in the Internet crime rates globally. Not only that, we see a shift in how consumers consume media contents nowadays, 71.8% of the users aged 15-17 interviewed in the CRC survey only viewed contents online, in comparison to nearly 20% in 2007. Given such high penetration rates, tighter governmental controls should be in place to ensure that the “gatekeeper” role is well performed.

Thus, to ensure that the 3-prong censorship approach is effective, we must ensure that all the media players, the individuals and the government work hand in hand, and that the public does not just rely on the government to do the job. However, given current local trends as mentioned above, I feel that public is not ready to welcome such total-freedom Internet environment. Thus, despite the foreseen increased costs, governmental controls, such as the 100-website ban, should stay as it continues to serve as an important tool to convey the stand of the mass public with regards to sensitive issues. However, tighter controls such as forming Internet police squads like what Australia has been doing, and expanding the website ban coverage could be done. More importantly, more public education on cyber wellness should be conducted through the means of seminars; interactive activities or TV shows to educate the public on potential Internet risks, in order to progress towards the aim of achieving a total-freedom Internet environment.

Moreover, governments from all around the world are concerned about how to protect the young Internet users from objectionable content. Even in the free media of Korea, a network securitycommitteewas set up to monitorthe objectionable information.Thus, the 100-website ban should stay, and together with more mitigating measures, it will aid in shaping the norm social values amongst the young web users, and that they are denied from undesirable materials.

Written as part of the assignment for Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Media Ethics, Law and Policy module.