The Infocomm Media Development Board (IMDA) has geo-blocked Internet users in Singapore from accessing two alternative Malaysian news websites after both publications refused to take down articles that have been deemed false by the Singapore authorities.
IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information, told reporters that it ordered internet service providers (ISPs) here to block access to the two websites earlier this month, on 10 Nov, after both websites re-published an article from the States Times Review (STR), that linked PM Lee and his Government to the 1MDB scandal.
Speaking to The New Paper, an IMDA spokesman said:
“The Coverage and Funny Pasar published States Times Review (STR)’s false allegations which impugned the integrity of Singapore’s public institutions.
“IMDA had previously assessed that the STR article was objectionable on the grounds of public interest and constituted prohibited content under Singapore’s Internet Code of Practice.”
First published on 5 November 2018, the STR article entitled “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target” made statements that were false and malicious, and impugned the integrity of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as a financial regulator.
The article further alleged that Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore, in exchange for Singapore banks’ assistance in laundering 1MDB’s funds.
The article has been deemed “baseless” by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who has said that the authorities will take action against all parties involved. MAS, Singapore’s central bank, filed a police report over the defamatory article.
Alex Tan, the editor of the website later revealed on Facebook that the IMDA also sent him a notice to remove the defamatory article from his website and warned him against publishing their confidential notice to him in the public domain since this would be considered an “aggravating factor warranting further regulatory action from IMDA.”
When Tan defiantly shared the notice on Facebook and refused to take down the article, the IMDA made good on its promise to block the website. The authority appeared to lift the ban later but Tan said that he is no longer interested in running the website.
There is speculation that Tan is now running the new Singapore Herald website, since the new website and Facebook page have the same look, feel and writing style as STR.