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April 4, 2006 12:56 pm

Singapore to ban podcasts in election campaigns

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Singapore plans to tighten its rules on the use of the internet for election campaigns, including banning podcasts and videocasts, as the city-state prepares to go to the polls later this year.

Opposition parties have complained that restrictions on internet use during elections limits them from reaching the public while the long-ruling People's Action party government heavily influences the press and broadcasters.

The use of the internet has influenced the outcome of polls in other Asian countries, particularly South Korea, where Roh Moo-hyun was elected president in 2002 after an aggressive online campaign.

"In a free-for-all internet environment, where there are no rules, political debate could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse, flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public," Balaji Sadasivan, the junior minister for information, communications and the arts, told parliament.

Political parties are limited under Singapore law to posting pictures of candidates, party histories and manifestos on the internet.

Mr Sadasivan warned that bloggers must register with the government "if they persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore" and would be barred from providing "material online that constitutes election advertising" during the election period.

"People should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the internet to manipulate public opinion. It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner," he said.

Whether Singapore will be able to enforce all the rules remains uncertain. There are a number of political chatrooms, many of them critical of the government, and most of them are hosted by overseas servers.

Unlike China, Singapore has so far refrained from blocking political websites, which have multipled since the last election in 2001.

The growing importance of the internet to the opposition was underscored whent the Singapore Democratic party last year introduced podcasts, or audio broadcasts, on its website to reach a wider audience.

The government now has 82 of the 84 parliamentary seats, but Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, has said he wants the PAP to eliminate remaining opposition members in the next election.

 

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