By ERIC ELLIS
Singapore ready to prosecute overseas porn sites
Pushing the boundary in the control-minded city-state
SAMMYBOY.COM is not a website you'd want your 11-year-old surfing into unsupervised. It's deep and content-rich, it's alluring, and, in the main, quite well-written. In places it is also funny. That's the glass half-full way of looking at it. The half-empty way is that it's lewd, crass and offensive. And that there's nothing funny about pornography.
Yes, Sammyboy is a porn site, aimed very directly at the country which arguably least tolerates porn: Singapore. Which is all very well except Official Singapore has yet to close it down. The site has been up and down, so to speak, several times over the past week, and on each occasion it was the site's webmaster, a Samuel Leong, who made the call to shut his own site down. Not the authorities.
What's happening here? Has the nanny state loosened up and is now tolerating porn? Can that be happening? As with many things in Singapore, not everything is as it seems.
Leong (if that's his real name) says he's not running a porn site. Instead he's running a community service. Sex, he says, is a bodily function that all of us at some point do, and all he's simply doing is bringing it out into the open.
I've had a close look at Sammyboy -- there, I admit it -- and I have decided that it is in fact a porn site. But one with qualifications. Where Sammyboy starts being a porn site -- and thus inviting the wrath of authorities -- is where it links to very serious porn sites, the ones that you sometimes click into by accident and then spend 10 frustrating minutes trying to close down all the recurring browsers. If Sammyboy didn't carry those links, then Leong's argument might stack up a bit more firmly.
Beyond that, Sammyboy is morphing into a kind of samizdat outlet where Singaporeans vent and satirize life in the city-state. That's another no-go area, where the government's patience has traditionally been pretty short. But if you hold your breath and dive in, the site can be pretty funny, and sometimes illuminating. There's links to information about bad Singapore Inc. investments that don't get talked about too much, a "conservative Asian values forum," and a pretty funny cartoon that speaks to the national ideology of making money.
Another taste of Sammy's sense of humor comes when you log on. A window appears warning "all SPH journalists to keep out. You are not welcome." SPH is Singapore's print media near-monopoly, the publisher of the pro-government Straits Times and New Paper. The latter, for your information, has been running a campaign to shut Sammy down. But it's a funny kind of campaign. The New Paper wrote a scolding article about the site, which simply served to lift Sammyboy's profile among the Singaporeans it warned not to surf there.
Sammy himself is a bit of a mystery. The site is hosted in California but registered to a Samuel Leong, which is kind of a Singapore Everyman name, in Auckland, New Zealand. I called the number on the registration site and spoke to a Morgan Yeo, who happened to be Singaporean but claimed to know nothing of Sammyboy, or Samuel Leong. "I just run a used car yard here," he pleaded.
So, what are authorities doing about it? So far, not much, but it's still early days. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority which regulates these things told the New Paper that "the Samuel Leong website is but one of countless number of pornographic sites on the Internet. "Given the borderless nature of the Internet and the vast number of undesirable sites on the Net, there is a limit of what legislation can do," said a spokesman.
Sites like Sammyboy test control regimes like Singapore. It's impossible to condone porn but where does it stop being porn and start being a content site. And what does it look like when the government mantra is to open up, become a media center, and then bans sites that claim not to strictly fall into the porn category?
My tip is that Singapore will jump on Sammyboy. And if Sammyboy -- or Leong -- was smart, and really wanted to make some money from advertisers, he'd take down the hardcore links and emphasis the user-guide aspect. And then he and the Singapore authorities could be talking the same language -- trying to help procreation.