Human Rights Watch said yesterday that Singapore was undercutting its status as a financial centre by expanding media censorship to the web. It urged the city-state's government to withdraw the new licensing requirement for online news sites.
Singapore is a major banking and trading hub and many companies have set up their regional headquarters in the city-state because of its relatively low corporate tax rate, strong infrastructure and proximity to Southeast Asia.
Singapore's licensing scheme casts a chill over its "robust and free-wheeling" online communities and will limit Singaporeans' access to independent media, said Cynthia Wong, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"Singapore is placing its status as a world-class financial centre at clear risk by extending its record of draconian media censorship to the digital world."
From June 1, websites that regularly report on Singapore must get a licence, putting them on par with newspapers and television news outlets, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said last week.
It identified sg.news.yahoo.com  as among 10 sites that would be affected by the new requirement, based on criteria such as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore a month over a period of two months.
Conditions for sites that require individual licences, which have to be reviewed annually, include a performance bond of S$50,000 (HK$310,840) and a requirement that objectionable content is removed within 24 hours as directed by the MDA.