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Friday, 12 July 2013

MDA Licensing, Foreigners and our Sovereignty

Despite my differences in opinion with several leading Singaporean bloggers and blog-site owners on the MDA licensing rules, I have always respected their views and tried to engage them. I have also endeavoured to try to assist them in bridging the gap in communication between them and the Government. One reason is that for the majority of the bloggers that I have met, despite their differences with the Government, it is still my opinion that they are loyal Singaporeans that are passionate about building a better future for Singapore. Our differences in envisioning what this future might be does not change this fact.

It is however different when foreigners and foreign organisations wade into the picture.

On July 10 2013, the US Government State Department issued a statement that it was deeply concerned  with the new MDA licensing rules and that it closely monitor(s) and often speak(s) out... on both Internet freedom and media freedom throughout the world. 

This followed very closely a statement by the US internet companies Facebook, Yahoo and Google (under the lobby group the Asian Internet Coalition) expressing their objection to the new MDA rules, and claiming that it would affect Singapore's business image, hinder investment in the Internet industry, especially in start-ups.

To begin with, this holier-than-thou attitude by the US government is laughable and highly ironic in the light of Edward Snowden's revelations about US internet companies working with the US government in spying on their own citizens as well as foreigners; make no mistake, the US government continues to hunt Snowden down as a fugitive whom several of its leading politicians have branded a traitor.

Like any other country, there are limits to the freedom of speech even in the United States of America. It is up to each and every sovereign country to decide where these limits lie; it is certainly not up to the USA to dictate to other countries these limits, especially when it is grappling with the same problems in their own country.
Singapore needs to very strongly rebut the US State Department, and put it in as diplomatic language as possible what could be summarised in four words - Mind Your Own Business.

I do not hold much hope that the USA in particular and Western countries in general, will heed this advice. Their penchant for preaching to other cultures, and trying to impose their values as universal values on the world, remains unabated even with the end of Empire. 
More reprehensible is the tying of financial interests to issues of value, which Western countries like to couch under the umbrella term of universal rights. 

This is implicit in the statement made by the US internet companies.

Not content with blocking off internet legislation in the US through powerful lobby groups that these corporate giants fund, these same internet companies continue to poke their noses in the affairs of foreign countries they operate in.

In the statement by the Asian Internet Coalition, implicit is the threat that if the Government does not re-consider these regulations, these US internet companies may re-consider investing in Singapore and jobs may be lost.

Apart from the open question of how much these regulations would actually hinder the businesses of these Internet giants, I have two points to make that Singaporeans should be aware of.

Firstly, these companies are no champions of freedom of expression. They are billion-dollar profit- making enterprises. It is my contention that Facebook, Google and their likes are more concerned about how these regulations will affect their bottom line and their operations, rather than the right to freedom of speech for the average Singaporean. 

Secondly and more importantly, Singapore should never succumb to the threats of foreigners and foreign companies that infringe on our sovereign right to decide our social norms for ourselves. If the price to pay for protecting our right of self-determination is that these companies will pull out of Singapore (an unlikely event), or they cut back on investment and jobs, then so be it. 

The US internet companies are in all likelihood still engaging in lobbying the Singapore government to change the rules according to their views.

They should stop now.

There is a limit to consulting foreign-based interests in deciding our domestic policies. If these companies feel they have to reduce their investment in Singapore and cost us jobs, it is their right to do so.

This should not and cannot be used as leverage against us.

The sovereignty of our nation is not for sale.

This article was first published on