The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) demand for The Opinion Collaborative (TOC Ltd) to return S$5,000 in advertising revenue to UK company Monsoons Book Club (MBC Ltd) is “perverse” and an affront to international free trade, said one of MBC Ltd’s director, Tan Wah Piow.
Mr Tan was responding to queries raised by a reporter from Channels NewsAsia, who sent the following questions to him on 9 March, London time.

  1. Was MBC at any point in time aware that TOC Ltd was not allowed to receive the foreign funding?
  2. Will MBC be assisting TOC Ltd in any way? (such as agreeing to defer payment)

The media regulator had last week claimed that MBC Ltd was a “non-commercial foreign entity” and that the advertising agreement was “not for bona fide commercial purposes”.

Mr Tan Wah Piow
Mr Tan Wah Piow

However, Mr Tan indicated that the commercial transaction was duly discharged by both TOC Ltd and MBC Ltd, in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
MDA’s demand “is not just a fetter on free trade, but an interference on freedom of expression since the advertisement campaign was related to promotion of an essay competition, and of the Monsoons Book Club,” said Mr Tan.
It is unclear if MDA will clarify on its definitions on non-bona fide commercial entities and purposes, but TOC Ltd had sent a letter earlier this week, asking for such clarifications.
Mr Tan responded on behalf of MBC Ltd on 10 March, but his letter has yet to be published in CNA. Appended below is the response in full.

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Dear Xxxxx of Channel NewsAsia,
Thank you for your enquiry on matters arising from MBC’s 2015 advertising campaign launched in conjunction with the essay competition on The Online Citizen through TOC Limited.
MBC Limited in the course of its activities in the UK, or elsewhere engages in commercial arrangements with suppliers. TOC Limited is one of such supplier.
Paying for the advertising campaign is part of the commercial obligation on the part of MBC to TOC Limited. That was discharged. TOC Limited on its end, had complied with the terms of our agreement.
This is a normal course of commercial transaction between two commercial concerns, regardless whether either party is a not-for-profit organisation.
The MDA intervention on this commercial transaction, and its demand that TOC Limited should return the fees paid to them by MBC is perverse. It is not just a fetter on free trade, but an interference on freedom of expression since the advertisement campaign was related to promotion of an essay competition, and of the Monsoons Book Club.
We note that the MDA has required TOC Limited to repay the fees within 30 days. If the MBC is called upon to assist TOC Limited, we will suggest that the payment, if so required under Singapore law, be paid over a period of 3 years. This is because TOC Limited does not currently have the funds, and we do not wish to be the cause of their insolvency.
On our part, we will apply this windfall to further promote the objectives of the Book Club.
Monsoons Book Club
London
10.3.2016