Thursday, March 11, 2010

New rulings for political chatters online.


Elections advertising: OB markers to shift
by Zul Othman and Zul Othman 05:55 AM Mar 12, 2010

SINGAPORE - There will be slightly more leeway for Singaporeans to discuss political issues and promote online any contesting candidate in future General and Presidential Elections. But the consequences will be more robust if anyone falls afoul of the law.

These changes to Internet elections advertising were among the details revealed yesterday as the amendments to the Constitution and the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Acts were tabled in Parliament. While operators of non-political party websites will not be required to register with the Media Development Authority for propagating political issues during the polls, they would have to take note of where not to tread.

For instance, publishing false statements about the personal character or conduct of a candidate incurs a new penalty of a fine or jail time of up to 12 months, or both.

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts also told MediaCorp: "They should be mindful that if what they do amounts to election activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate, they need written authorisation of the candidate or his election agent to do so."

But just as political parties are not allowed campaign on Polling Day - and now also on the day before that, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong previously described as a new "Cooling Off Day" - this rule will also apply to any election advertising, online or offline.

Those who engage in such advertising can be fined up to $1,000 or jailed up to 12 months or both.

Election candidates will have a defence, though, if third parties still campaign on their behalf on these two days - if the circumstances were beyond the candidate's control, and he or she "took all reasonable steps, and exercised all due diligence" to prevent any advertising.


Where the election advertising is already lawfully published or displayed before the cooling off period, such as posters and banners and websites, the ban would not apply so long as they remain unaltered. Non-citizens, however, will not be allowed to advertise at all.

Also excluded from the election blackout: Emailing, SMSing or MMSing political views by one individual to another, "on a non-commercial basis".

What will not change are the traditional television broadcasts by political parties on the eve of polling day and election coverage by the media.

Political observer and Singapore Management University law lecturer Eugene Tan told MediaCorp it was "quite clear" the Government is tabling "a comprehensive set of rules as to what candidates can or cannot do".

However, he felt it "remained to be seen" if these rules can cover every scenario. "The big unknown is how these rules would be enforced. It's important that the electorate can see that these set of rules are applied to everyone without fear or favour," he added.

Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, felt the written authorisation required from candidates to advertise on their behalf could work to the benefit of the bigger People's Action Party if it mobilises support online.

"But it is going to be challenging to get people to go to their sites when the public gets so much about it (election news) from the mainstream media," she added.


The new rules come at a time when there has been a gradual political liberalisation. In recent years, the Government has made Speakers' Corner an unrestricted area.

During the election period, though, anyone who wants to hold election meetings - defined as public assemblies organised by or on behalf of a candidate to aid his campaign - will have to get a permit from the Commissioner of Police even at Speakers' Corner from the time of Nomination Day to Polling Day.

Many election offences - including displaying "any badge, symbol, set of colours, flags, advertisement, handbill, placard or posters as political propaganda" - on Cooling Off Day and Polling Day have been made seizable offences. This means the police can make an arrest without a warrant.

The amendments yesterday also give powers to the President to postpone Nomination Day in the case of, say, natural calamities or the threat of violence. If it is a Presidential Election, that power is vested in the Prime Minister.

The Returning Officer appointed for an election can also make postponements to polling at a polling station or the counting of votes in such cases. What was not set out in the amendments: The number of Group Representation Constituencies and Single-Member Constituencies. This will be done by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee.

But the proposed changes did specify the maximum number of Non-Constituency MPs from any single GRC: Two.

Everything sounds alright in my opinion except for ONE PART:

"What will not change are the traditional television broadcasts by political parties on the eve of polling day and election coverage by the media."

This "election coverage by the media" MIGHT be the grey area... although its nothing new.

It would be interesting how things will pan out during the election period.


Also interesting to note is how the internet plane will be subjected to monitoring and moderation because of the new law. Its another potential grey zone, as how one defines "ppl writing or speaking on behalf of candidates". If i'm a supporter of Party A, of course i gonna be commenting or speaking in favour of Party A; does that consider me writing on behalf of Party A?

And the ambiguous ruling of candidates needing to do their due diligence to make sure they did everything to make sure that they arent "spoke on behalf by" others. This could become a "weapon" to smear the "opponent" or a backhanded approach if things "gets out of hand".

Another pitfall is the also new ruling of the strong deterrence against ppl from speaking falsely abt the personality, action and character of the candidates. This could be a tripping line for many of those activists online (Majulah! is not a activist organisation nor do we support any particular party; we are neutral) as from observations, tend to be pretty firebrand in their criticism on the ruling party.

So all political activists, observers, commentators should take note of the new ruling and not get themselves into unnecessary trouble.


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