Be careful of overseas laws – especially online

Earlier today, Old Taskmaster read about some new internet censorship laws – sorry, online media regulations – that have just come into force in Singapore.


Basically, any website or blog that features more than one article about Singapore per week and attracting a readership of more than 50,000 unique IP addresses per month on the island nation (over a period of two months) now needs to get themselves a media licence.


A cynic would say the laws represent yet another attempt by big government to try to regulate the internet. Not Old Taskmaster – the official line is that the changes will bring websites into line with regulations for newspapers and broadcasters. And it must be true. After all, it’s not as if anyone in officialdom has ever done any spin doctoring – right?


Anyway, buried in the detail of this new law are a few clauses that Australian companies doing business in Singapore should be very mindful of.


The new law says that website owners must immediately remove any content deemed “objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Singapore laws”.


And a key measuring stick for whether a piece of content is objectionable is “whether the material advocates homosexuality or lesbianism”.


Now, this is where it becomes tricky. Many businesses – perhaps yours – maintain “diversity statements” that pledge not to discriminate on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation or sexual orientation. A good example comes from the Australian-based power company SP Austnet.


SP Austnet, of course, is owned by Singapore Power, which in turn is owned by the Singapore government’s investment firm, Temasek Holdings:


“SP AusNet is diverse along many dimensions. Our diversity encompasses differences in ethnicity, gender, language, age, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, physical and mental ability, thinking styles, experience, and education.”


Now here’s the crunch. SP Austnet’s statement saying it support diversity in its workforce in terms of sexual orientation could be interpreted as “material that advocates homosexuality or lesbianism”, and would therefore considered “objectionable content” by its ultimate shareholder, the Singapore government.


Welcome to the complicated world of doing business overseas.


Well, Old Taskmaster says this: Before doing business in a foreign country, make sure you do your homework first. After all, a throwaway line in a motherhood statement in Australia could be deemed immoral or illegal in another country.


Get it done – today!


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