Independent Singapore news site Breakfast Network closes after government pressure

The Breakfast NetworkAn independent news website in Singapore has closed after pressure from the government’s media regulator to get a publishing licence.

The Breakfast Network, which launched eight months ago, has announced on its site that it is to close, but will continue to publish content on its Facebook page.

Bertha Henson, the Breakfast Network’s founder and a former associate editor of The Straits Times, said in a post that the decision to incorporate the website as a company had attracted the attention of the Media Development Authority, which last month requested that the site get a publishing licence.

A controversial new license for internet news reporting was introduced in Singapore in May.

Henson said that because she was unclear what getting a licence meant, she would close the site for now. BN’s deadline to comply to the MDA’s licence request was today, 10 December.

The request came five months after the MDA asked The Independent, another independent news website, to also get a publishing licence, claiming that it suspected that The Independent had sought foreign backing.

The MDA told Breakfast Network the same as it had told The Independent: “The registration will not in any way affect what Breakfast Network can publish on its site. However, the undertaking will prevent the site from being controlled by, or coming under the influence of, foreign entities or funding, thus ensuring that Singapore politics remain a matter for Singaporeans alone.”

Henson wrote today:

Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson

It was a bit of a surprise to get an email from the Media Development Authority about three weeks back about having to register the site. I hadn’t even begun to pull together a business plan to show the network contributors.

I suppose the MDA was in a conundrum. First, the Independent and now, Breakfast Network. How to ensure some control over news sites, especially those that hadn’t hit the 50,000 visitors mark that would attract licensing? What if there are more clones? What if we get in bed with nefarious foreigners?

The first thing that came to mind was: Did we do something wrong? Which article pissed off who in the G? And, yes, was this a way of saying that Big Brother is watching? Or were we reading sinister motives into a mundane, regulatory issue that was simply prohibiting foreigners with dubious motives funding us? That is, registration is really no big deal.

Of course, we wondered why we were singled out. The G thought the Independent was getting foreign funds, which it has denied, hence the registration demand in July. This area must be entirely new to the G, because it later revised the registration forms which The Independent described as “different in scope’’. Now with the revised forms, the next move – to use a civil service phrase – would be to “regularise’’ everything else, we suppose.

Stupidly, we made the head of the queue because we had incorporated a company to run the website.

Benson added in her post:

I think the government should think a bit harder about imposing regulations on this new environment that is called the Internet.

Because some people believe it should remain un-regulated; some think that conceding to one piece of regulation is a slippery slope that will push online views into a shape resembling the mainstream media. And that is not what people who report and write online sign up to be.

Some people even wonder if this was a way to crimp the growth of a media outfit that could prove over time too big and too difficult to handle if not regulated at its infancy.

The post closed with an appeal to readers to keep up to date with posts on the Breakfast Network’s Facebook page, and for a donation of S$1m “to retrofit our kitchen and renovate premises”.


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