Bangkok – Singapore has defended its controversial licensing regime for news websites, following criticism from internet giants including Facebook and Google.
Internet freedom will not be stifled by the new regulations, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament on Monday.
He was speaking after the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) - an industry association formed by eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo! - wrote to him expressing concern about rules introduced last month that currently affect 10 websites, including Yahoo! Singapore.
They require sites that report regularly on Singapore and have "significant reach" among local readers to apply for annual licences. They must also post a bond of $39 000 and remove any content the government deems objectionable within 24 hours.
The AIC said the new regulatory framework "could unintentionally hamper Singapore's ability to continue to drive innovation, develop key industries in the technology space and attract investment in this key sector".
But Yaacob defended the new rules in Parliament, saying they would not stifle internet freedom or stop websites commenting on government policies, Channel News Asia reported.
"It is because of the responsibility news providers have to our society that we have adopted an individual licensing framework for traditional news platforms. And this is also the reason for extending a similar framework to online news sites, for greater consistency," it quoted him as saying.
The new regulations sparked a backlash when they were announced, including a rare protest in the tightly controlled city-state in June that attracted around 2 000 people, led by prominent bloggers and activists.
More than 150 local websites also blacked out their content for 24 hours in protest.