Australian Net Censorship Bill 1999:
More authoritarian than
Malaysia and Singapore


Following comments by members of the Senate Committee, research has been conducted into the situation regarding Internet censorship in Singapore and Malaysia. This research reveals that the requirements of the 1999 Australian Net censorship Bill are more restrictive and onerous than in those countries.

Comments made at the Committee's hearings include:

Senator TIERNEY—Senator Lundy made the point about degrading the Internet system by putting various filters on, I assume, at the server level. Are you aware of the Singapore and Malaysian experience with this? I was interested in your laughing stock comment in the light of the fact of what happens in Singapore and Malaysia, which would probably have the most restrictive access regime in the world by the use of proxy servers to filter out what the government considers to be unsuitable material. Internet businesses, as we heard last night, are absolutely booming in Singapore. They have gone up—I forget the initial figure, which was fairly low—to 5,000 in a very short period of time. Having such a restrictive server system does not seem to be restricting any commerce in those countries.
-- Senator John Tierney, Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies, addressing the Australian Computer Society representatives during the Committee's public hearing, Canberra, 28 April 1999.
Mr Grainger—The Singapore experience is pretty good. It is a little opaque. The rules are not precisely as they appear but they are undoubtedly dealing with problematic material on the Internet. One has got to say that, whatever they are doing, the evidence is that, in 1996, there were 900 sites in Singapore and in two or three years that has increased to 5,500 sites. Their revenue from online business has quadrupled and far exceeds Australia’s revenue from online business.
Senator TIERNEY—Despite having a proxy server system that is perhaps the strictest in the world?
Mr Grainger—Yes.
Senator TIERNEY—That is very interesting.
-- Senator John Tierney and Mr Gareth Grainger, Deputy Chairman, Australian Broadcasting Authority, during the Committee's public hearing, Canberra, 27 April 1999.
However research shows, in summary, that:
  • In Malaysia, their Prime Minister announced in March 1999 that there would be no censorship of the Internet in Malaysia. This did not just apply to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).
  • In Singapore, ISPs are required to block access to only "100 high impact pornographic sites, as identified by the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), as a statement of societal values" and access to newsgroups which contain "prohibited" content. Furthermore, adult verification mechanisms are not required for material unsuitable for children. There are a number of other aspects of the regime in Singapore which indicate it is less onerous than the proposed Australian regime.

For further details, see:

Note: Information on this page is provided for informational purposes only. It should not be taken to signify EFA endorsement of any censorship regime, either offline or online, in Singapore or Malaysia.



This first article below is dated 20 July 1998 and refers to no censorship of the Net being stated in the Communications and Multimedia Bill. The Act came into effect on 1 April 1999. It is unknown whether the Bill was subsequently amended before enactment. The legislation replaces the Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act, suggesting that since July 1998 there was to be no Net censorship. Various media reports refer to licensing conditions on cybercafes having been seen as censorship and this requirement has ceased as of March 1999. This was announced at the same time as the Prime Minister announced there would not be censorship of the Internet in Malaysia.

Speech on Communications and Multi-media Bill 1998, by Lim Kit Siang, Member of Parliament, Democratic Action Party, largest Opposition Party. (Page dated 20 July 1998)

(Dewan Rakyat, Monday): The Communications and Multimedia Bill 1998  can probably be described as the cornerstone of all the cyberbills for Malaysia as it is the catchall and overall legislative policy document for the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC)  and the push for Malaysia's digital future. Once termed the Multimedia Convergence Bill, the bill has been renamed to encompass the two acts it will repeal, the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act.
The Bill sets standards and general policy for communications in the new multimedia based industries which will sprout and act as a guiding document in the digital age. What I like about the bill is that it  takes a hands off approach and defers initial codes of conduct to self-regulatory industry specific forums. This allows industry to regulate itself, but leaves room for the government to step in if this fails to happen. This influence is wielded by the new Multimedia and Communications Commission which will act as a regulatory and enforcement body for this Bill.

I welcome in particular section  3 (3) of the Bill which reads "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet". By getting this over with early, the government is keeping  its promise laid down in the  MSC Bill of Guarantees not to impose filtering of Internet delivered content. By specifically stating so in the law of the land, this further cements the principal freedoms of the electronic medium while other articles call for industry self regulation to ensure that cultural needs are adhered to.  Nevertheless, this is a good start to the legislation, although I will have more to say about the issue of no censorship on the Internet.
This will ensure that no one industry forum could dominate by creating codes which only favour itself.
I welcome the provision in the bill which  explicitly states that provision of content with intent to annoy, harras, threaten or abuse any person is strictly prohibited. Under many definitions, spam or Unsolicited Commercial Email and Unsolicited Bulk Email could be construed as annoying or harassing the receiver. Mayhaps spam fighters would now have legal recourse to challenge this vile behaviour as it carries with it a fine not exceeding RM50,000 and/or one year free board and lodging courtesy of His Majesty's Government.

Do Away With Internet Censorship: PM, Utusan Express, 16 March 1999

KUALA LUMPUR March 16 - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has advised the Cabinet to dispense with attempts on internet censorship, said Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) executive chairman Tan Sri Dr Othman Yeop Abdullah today.

''The Prime Minister has given specific instructions that there will not be censorship on the internet. That's the position of the government,'' he said at a press conference.

He explained that the Prime Minister was reaffirming a pledge in the Bill of Guarantee last week that there will be no censorship on the internet.

Based on feedback from the IT industry, the proposal by local governments requiring users to be registered at cyber cafes is, to some extent, perceived as a form of censorship.

''I informed the Prime Minister about this last Friday (last week) and he said it is something we should not accept. He immediately gave instructions for the practice to be stopped,'' Dr Othman said.

No internet censorship, says PM, Daily Express - Independent National Newspaper of Malaysia, 17 March 1999

Guarantee on non-censorship of Internet stays, Business Times, 17 March 1999   

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reaffirmed that there will be no censorship of the Internet as pledged in the Bill of Guarantees, Multimedia Development Corp (MDC) executive chairman Tan Sri Dr Othman Yeop Abdullah said yesterday.

Backdown on Internet censorship, South China Morning Post, 18 March 1999

IAN STEWART in Kuala Lumpur
Days after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad complained that people were misusing the Internet to spread lies, the Government has announced that users of the World Wide Web will be free from any form of censorship. Dr Mahathir has directed that existing curbs be removed, including a requirement for the registration of all patrons of cyber-cafes, which provide terminals for people to gain access to the Internet.
The cyber-cafe plan followed the arrest and prosecution of four people for spreading rumours on the Internet and a statement by Deputy Home Minister Mohamad Tajol Rosli Ghazali that police would "check every bit of information and leaflet" posted on web sites.

But potential investors in the Multimedia Super Corridor, which Dr Mahathir wants to make the high-technology research and development centre of Asia, expressed concern over these developments.

Their reaction, and attacks on the Multimedia Super Corridor itself, apparently prompted the government move.

Groups hail removal of Internet censorship, The New Straits Times, 18 March 1999     

KUALA LUMPUR, Wed. - Various groups today welcomed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's decision to remove all forms of Internet censorship. They said internet censorship was not the answer to combating social ills among youths, and would be counter productive instead of helping solve such problems.

Cabinet: Cybercafes not subjected to restrictions, The New Straits Times, 18 March 1999  

 KUALA LUMPUR, Wed. - In line with the Government's promise to avoid censorship of the Internet, the Cabinet has decided that cybercafes will not be subject to any restrictions other than the normal rules applicable to restaurants. Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Dr Ting Chew Peh said today that the Cabinet had decided this last week after considering negative reaction from investors about restrictions on the information technology industry.
Keep the Net's free flow of info, The New Straits Times, 21 March 1999   
IT is hardly surprising that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has directed that there should be absolutely no censorship of the Internet. Proclaimed as "one of the 25 most intriguing minds of the New Economy" and prime mover of Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor, it is unthinkable that he will not act in the face of concerns expressed by MSC companies. Malaysians, particularly members of the Cabinet, State Governments and their agencies, should not lose sight of the country's aim in embracing information technology. The MSC is a window of opportunity for Malaysia to tap the knowledge, resources and wealth of developed countries to boost its own development. It is imperative that Malaysia make a head-start lest we be left behind as the country will invariably be affected given the borderless world of this rapidly-developing IT age. Since the quantum leap some two years ago, there has been an aggressive campaign to prepare the nation and its people for the momentous change.

CMA gets positive response, The New Straits Times, 5 April 1999     

THE Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), which came into effect on April 1 this year, has received positive response from various quarters in the local information technology (IT) and telecommunications industries. The Association of the Computer Industry Malaysia (Pikom) said the local IT industry stands to gain much from the new Act as it now broadens the scope of business for players, such as opportunities in telephony-related activities. Its executive director Alan Fung said the association is also relieved that the Act will not be used to regulate the online content business as the Government has recently reiterated its stand not to exert censorship on the Internet and not to license Web sites.

Don't Abuse Freedom To Internet Access, Says Moggie, Utusan Express, 13 April 1999

KUALA LUMPUR April 13 - The government's assurance that there will be no censorship on Internet usage should not be viewed as freedom to abuse the access privileges, Energy, Telecommunications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Leo Moggie said today.

Calling on every Malaysians to ensure that the Internet is put to good use, he said it is an important tool to make the nation more competitive in the long run.

''In this regard the government welcomes efforts by all sectors of society to help mitigate and address the issue of Internet abuse,'' he said when launching the Asean distributorship of ''WebSENSE'', an Internet screening and reporting software here.
Chief Executive of Silicon Navigator Sdn Bhd, Kho Han Mien said many people has questioned Silicon for promoting an Internet filtering software when the authority has made clear no censorship will be applied on the Internet.

''My answer is, while the Internet can be a wonderful resource for corporate users, recent studies have shown that 52 percent of employees access to the Internet is to non business-related sites... besides, almost one in five people go to cybersex sites while at work,'' he said.



The following information consists of exact quotes from the Singapore Broadcasting Authority's web site.

What are the obligations of the Internet Service Providers?

According to the licensing framework, ISPs must exercise their best possible efforts to ensure that the main information highways stay clean. SBA does not want this task to be an onerous one for the ISPs, hence, they are only required to limit access to 100 high-impact pornographic sites. The ISPs are also required to observe the SBA content guidelines to determine which newsgroups they should subscribe to. SBA encourages industry self-regulation.

Guidelines - Obligations of Internet Service Providers [Cls 3(1) and 3(2) of Code]

16 ISPs are encouraged to take their own initiative against offensive content through their own Acceptable Use Policies. They are not required to monitor the Internet or their users' Internet activities.

17 ISPs are required to limit access to websites identified by SBA, notably, high-impact pornographic websites. ISPs do not need to actively search the Internet for websites containing prohibited material.

18 ISPs are free to decide which newsgroups to subscribe to based on their business policy and the Code. We do not require ISPs to monitor or remove postings, nor does SBA monitor postings in newsgroups.

19 In exercising judgement over which newsgroups to subscribe to, we require ISPs to make an initial assessment as to the likelihood of a newsgroup being a conduit for prohibited material. If any subscribed newsgroups is subsequently found to contain a significant amount of prohibited material, we encourage ISPs to exercise judgement on whether to unsubscribe to the newsgroup. SBA may also direct ISPs to unsubscribe to particular newsgroups which contain prohibited material.

20 Internet Content Providers, particularly web authors, should observe the Internet Code of Practice. There is no need to seek SBA's prior approval for content posted on the Net. ICPs should exercise judgement according to the definitions of what constitute prohibited material. Licensees who are not sure if their content would be considered prohibited may check with SBA.

21 Web publishers and server administrators are not required to monitor the Internet or pre-censor content. They are only required to deny access to prohibited materials when directed by SBA. The primary responsibility for the content remains with the author and not the publisher or server administrator.

22 Internet Content Providers who are not targeting Singapore as their principal market will not be subject to Singapore's standards unless they are primarily in the business of distributing pornography. For example, movie sites which are hosted in Singapore can promote and carry movie clips, even those which do not meet Singapore's standards.


Internet Code of Practice - includes definition of prohitibed content which specifically includes consideration of medical, scientific, artistic or educational value


Besides pornographic stuff, just exactly what sites will be off limits?

SBA only limits access to 100 pornographic sites with high impact as a statement of Singapore's social values.

I use the Internet a lot and I would really like to know what exactly is regulated and what's not regulated

SBA does not censor Web sites, nor do we require ISPs to monitor the Internet. All we require of the ISPs is that they limit public access to certain high-impact pornographic sites. SBA focuses only on the purveyors and distributors of pornography as this is the area of most immediate concern to parents. We are also concerned with information that promote violence and incite racial and religious hatred.

Private communications, such as email and Internet Relay Chat, between two individuals or parties are not regulated. SBA's purview only covers the provision of material to the public. We would like to reiterate that we respect users' privacy on the Internet. Users can access any material on the Internet in the privacy of their own home or what companies provide to their employees.

The Internet is a growing medium; issues of privacy are important. Nobody should interfere with an individual's communications on the Internet much in the same way as postal and telephone communication are protected. Just as today, letters cannot be tampered or opened by the postal company, or telephones tapped by the telephone company, the same can also apply for the Internet. This is in line with our approach that we focus on the broadcast aspect and not on private communications or access. We are prepared, if necessary, to recommend measures to strengthen privacy on the Internet.

Instituting a light-touch policy framework

Class Licence Scheme
SBA regulates Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers through the Class Licence Scheme and Code of Practice which were introduced in July 1996. These put in place a basic framework that is intended to set minimum standards for the healthy growth of the Internet. SBA's Class Licence Scheme automatically licenses Internet Service and Content Providers.

Besides the three Internet Access Service Providers (IASPs), ISPs include resellers such as Singapore Network Services and National Computer Systems. They are required to register with SBA but are not required to monitor the Internet or its users. They will, however, need to limit access to 100 high impact pornographic sites, as identified by SBA, as a statement of societal values.

Internet Content Providers (ICPs) do not need to register with SBA unless their web pages are primarily set up to promote political or religious causes. Registration does not mean the promotion of political and religious causes is not allowed - it merely serves to emphasise the need for the content providers to be responsible in what they say. For non-political and non-religious Content Providers, they are automatically licensed under the Class Licence Scheme and need to abide by SBA's Internet Code of Practice, which outlines what the community regards as offensive or harmful to Singapore's racial and religious harmony. The primary concern of SBA's Internet policies are pornography, violence and incitement of racial or religious hatred.

SBA's purview only covers the provision of material to the public. It is not concerned with what individuals receive, whether in the privacy of their own home or at their workplace. Corporate Internet access for business use is also outside the scope of the regulations, as is private communications e.g. electronic mail and Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

Light-Touch Enforcement Policy

The Internet Code of Practice gives broad markers on what is regarded as offensive materials. In enforcement, the context in which any allegedly offensive material is found will be taken into consideration. If it is incidental or presented in good faith or used for educational, artistic, scientific or medical purposes, it will not be in breach of the Code. SBA typically alerts ISPs if it comes across or receives any complaints of websites that flout its Internet guidelines. A light-touch enforcement approach is adopted, which means that an offender will be given a chance to rectify the breach before SBA takes any action. To date, SBA has not taken action against anyone for objectionable content on the Internet, as service and content providers have generally abided by the guidelines.


[Cyberspace is Burning - What are you going to do about it?]

Go to: EFA Stop Censorship Campaign resources page.


Last updated: 3 May 1999