Home News Featured News IMDA says The Online Citizen 'repeatedly failed' to declare all funding sources;...

IMDA says The Online Citizen ‘repeatedly failed’ to declare all funding sources; asks for an explanation for its non-compliance

“I’m actually really prepared to go to jail at any point for what I’m doing, and to be jailed indefinitely".

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Singapore — The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Tuesday (Sept 7) threatened to take enforcement action against the socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) if it did not give good reasons for repeatedly failing to declare all its funding sources for last year.

It added that despite reminders and extensions, TOC has not done so, and it has asked TOC to explain its non-compliance.

The IMDA explained that registered Internet content providers, such as TOC, which engage in the promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore online, are “required to be transparent” about their sources of funding.

“This is to prevent such sites from being controlled by, or coming under the influence of foreign entities or funding, and ensure that there is no foreign influence in domestic politics,” added IMDA.

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It noted that TOC complied with the annual declaration when it was first registered in 2018, but has not fully complied with this obligation since 2019.

In its statement, it added that TOC failed to verify a donor and clarify discrepancies in its foreign advertising revenue in its 2019 declaration, for which a warning was issued on May 4, 2021.

In a Facebook post on Chief Editor Terry Xu’s Facebook page, he posted a letter by Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers stating that they declare that the organisation does not receive foreign funding but does not wish to “fill up Annex C” on their subscription model. In his post, Mr Xu wrote that in TOC’s reply to IMDA, they said:

“We have already clarified the identity of one of the donors and noted to IMDA that we are fine with donating the other sum if IMDA chooses to order us to do so and also clarified that it was just a mistake in the foreign advertiser figures that were submitted. (Note that all these figures are submitted voluntarily and IMDA had no means of checking if TOC does not fill up the numbers itself)

We have also explained to IMDA how the subscription model works, however IMDA went further to ask TOC to justify its subscription fees. Even after showing proof of how the model works, IMDA continued to press on regarding this matter.

We have noted to IMDA that TOC is ok with submitting the declaration if the subscription fees can be exempted from the declaration as we deem its questioning of the subscription model a form of harassment by the authorities and there is no justification of it doing so. IMDA rejected the offer for us to do so”.

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The Independent Singapore is the other website in Singapore that’s classified as a class licensee together with TOC.

The annual filing process can be onerous, but not stifling. We generally find IMDA officers to be professional in their conduct and in the manner they discharge their duties.

“We comply with it because we believe Singapore needs credible alternative news media which are necessary for the country’s aspiration to be a First World nation. We want to be part of that journey. Nevertheless, we hope the day will come when such a licensing scheme becomes unnecessary,” said Mr Tan Bah Bah, Consulting Editor of The Independent Singapore.

Last week, the High Court awarded Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a total of $210,000 in damages for two defamation suits he filed over an article published on the TOC website. PM Lee had separately sued TOC chief editor Terry Xu and Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, the Malaysian author of the article that was published on Aug 15, 2019.

In a piece posted on RICE media, Mr Xu said: “I’m actually really prepared to go to jail at any point for what I’m doing, and to be jailed indefinitely”. /TISG

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