Dated: 6 July 2006
The National Internet Advisory Committee (NIAC) today issued its ninth Annual Report for the period April 2005 to March 2006, renewing its calls for a coordinated, multi-pronged approach in making the Internet and new media platforms safe for all, especially children.
There is a need for all stakeholders - the Government, industry and the public - to work cohesively to handle new challenges posed by the Internet and other new media services, the NIAC noted in its report.
Its recommended three-pronged approach: Maintaining a light-touch regulatory framework, industry self-regulation and empowering parents and users on responsible usage through public education.
Said Professor Bernard Tan, Chairman of the NIAC, “New media services such as mobile technology, from SMS to mobile Internet access, have become increasingly popular and an integral part of everyday life. Such rapid advancements in technology increase the risk of exposure, to undesirable materials online, especially to young children.
“Users will need to acquire the right values to know how to use the Internet and new media services responsibly, for education, work and entertainment.”
To ensure that the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) Class Licence regulatory framework remains relevant, the NIAC undertook a comprehensive review of the Class Licence Scheme, taking into account technological and market trends.
An area that the NIAC deliberated upon was the application of the Class Licence to blogs. The consensus was that blogs are no different from other types of content on websites. As the Class Licence already applies to blogs in the same way it does to all websites, the NIAC does not see the need to update the Class Licence to address any concerns about undesirable content carried on blogs.
It also noted that existing laws, peer pressure and blog community norms should continue to play an important role in dealing with individual private blogs that carry irresponsible or extreme views.
On the whole, the Class Licence Scheme remains robust and is relevant enough to deal with emerging technological trends, though some areas should be updated to take into account recent technological changes.
Said Prof Tan: “The NIAC feels a light-touch regulatory approach is important in facilitating the legitimate growth of these new services, and in safeguarding public interests on Internet safety issues.”
The NIAC opines that regulatory frameworks alone cannot fully address the social concerns brought about by the Internet and new media. The industry plays an important role too in complementing the regulator’s efforts to better protect users from undesirable aspects of the Internet and new media.
In this regard, the NIAC’s report commended the three major local mobile phone operators –MobileOne, SingTel and StarHub, for jointly developing the Voluntary Code for Self-Regulation of Mobile Content in Singapore in March 2006.
Looking ahead, the NIAC aims to continue working together with the mobile phone operators to keep the Mobile Content Code relevant and effective.
Another initiative reviewed by the NIAC was the development of an Online Security Public Education Repository, an online portal as a result of a collaboration between NIAC and the SiTF Industry Task Force. This Repository serves as a resource centre for the general public and will contain information such as steps to protect children when accessing the Internet as well as weblinks to support groups that focus on Internet safety.
Internet Service Providers such as Pacific Internet, SingNet and StarHub, together with Microsoft, have contributed valuable resources to develop the online portal, and work is still in progress. The NIAC will continue to collaborate with the SiTF Industry Task Force to develop this online portal to help raise greater awareness of online safety and Cyber Wellness values.
The NIAC noted that there is a limit to what regulators and industry players can do to keep out the undesirable content in this increasingly networked and interconnected world. As such, it is critical for end-users like parents and teenagers to learn to discern what is appropriate, and to empower parents to protect their children according to their respective standards and values. Users, both the young and old, need to understand the nature of the new and exciting media platforms, and learn to harness its positive uses.
A key area of focus by the NIAC is the danger posed by Internet access on mobile phones. Members feel that technical tools which provide parents with the option to manage their children’s Internet access could be an effective way to address undesirable content on the Internet. Mobile Internet service providers are strongly encouraged to offer tools such as the Family Access Networks (FAN) currently available for wired Internet access subject to compliance cost, technical feasibility and commercial viability considerations.
For dial-up and broadband Internet access, the NIAC also notes that the current awareness of FAN services is low. It recommends that advertisements for Internet access which specifically target children or other minors under 16 years should include information about FAN options. Where feasible, Internet Service Providers should consider FAN as the default choice for subscription plans aimed at young users, unless a parent or guardian explicitly requests for the disabling of FAN.
The NIAC is aware of the potential technical and commercial issues associated with these recommendations. This being an issue of significant public interest, the NIAC recommends that policy makers work closely with the relevant industry stakeholders to factor in their concerns before deciding on its implementation.
Public education is another important pillar in the multi-pronged strategy to address challenges brought on by the Internet and new media.
The Committee recorded its appreciation to the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi) and its volunteers for their efforts in empowering parents and teachers with skills to guide themselves and their children in dealing with online safety issues. PAGi had, in the last five years, succeeded in reaching out to over 90,000 children, youths, parents and volunteers through a series of road shows, mentoring and training sessions.
TOUCH Community Services (TCS), National Youth Council and other volunteer work organisations (VWOs) were also lauded for helping the NIAC to launch the Cyber Wellness Movement. This is a programme targeted at instilling youths with values on how to use the Internet responsible.
Moving forward, the NIAC hopes the newly formed Community Advisory Committee (CAC) will continue to take on this role of providing a co-ordinated and concerted approach to promote Cyber Wellness and enhancing new media appreciation and adoption among Singaporeans.
The NIAC concluded that the light-touch approach by MDA, complemented by industry-led initiatives and parental guidance, is the way forward to ensure a safe online environment for everyone, without stifling the growth of the Internet and new media services.
For more information, please contact:
Lui Wai Leong
Tel: 6837 9380
Fax: 6336 5560