Websites that regularly report on Singapore and have a significant local reach must get an individual media license to operate from June 1, the Singapore Media Development Authority said Wednesday.
The move is seen by critics as an attempt to control Internet news, while the media regulator said it will bring the news websites on par with newspapers and television channels.
"Online news sites that report regularly on issues relating to Singapore and have significant reach among readers here will require an individual license," the MDA said in a statement, according to Reuters report. "This will place them on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms which are already individually licensed."
According to the MDA, news sites that get 50,000 or more unique visitors in a month and report an average of at least one Singapore-related news story in a week over a period of two months fall under the regulatory framework.
The regulation will be applicable to 10 sites, including Yahoo Singapore News. Nine other news websites belong to major broadcasters or publishers that already have individual broadcasting licenses.
Singapore, one of the most prosperous countries in Asia, has strict media controls in place. Most of the small country’s multi-ethnic population have Internet access and get their news online.
Traditional broadcasters are required to have individual licenses to operate in the country and the government has control over the content published in these media.
The new rule also makes it mandatory for the licensed websites to remove objectionable content within 24 hours, if directed by the MDA. The license also requires the websites to provide a performance bond of $39,700.
The new regulation applies only to websites based in Singapore now, but the government aims to bring foreign websites offering Singapore news targeting the domestic market under the ambit of the new law.
"We will amend the Broadcasting Act next year, with a view to ensure that any other sites which are hosted overseas but reporting on Singapore news are also brought into the licensing framework," Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said Tuesday.
Some criticized the government’s move as an attempt to curtail media freedom. Several users who reacted to a post on the new rule on state-owned Channel NewsAsia's Facebook page likened the media situation in Singapore to that of North Korea and China.
“wow nice, MDA will be blocking TheRealSingapore.com & TREmeritus.com soon? Such a disappointment. We are like living in North Korea now. Time to migrate!” a user named Samntha Chen wrote on Channel NewsAsia's Facebook page.
Another user with the name Melissa Jelly Beans wrote: “booooooooooo....!!!!!!!! you call this democracy?! More like the "nicer" version of North Korea! China may have banned Facebook but they never charged money to those news websites that report regularly on Singapore and are visited by 50,000 or more people."