The Opinion Collaborative has issued a strongly-worded response to an article published by The Straits Times, claiming that the national broadsheet has misrepresented the social enterprise in its appeal to the Ministry of Communications and Information to quash demands by the Media Development Authority to return advertising revenue.
ST’s article featured the donation made by Dr Paul Tambyah from the Singapore Democratic Party to The Online Citizen.
The Opinion Collaborative, however, has said that the donation was part of a public fund-raising drive initiated by TOC in February 2015 in the lead-up to the 2015 General Elections.
Noting that Dr Tambyah has always advocated for media freedom, TOC Ltd said that ST’s “insinuation that there is some kind of revelation about his support for TOC is completely out of place.”
In response to its appeal case, TOC Ltd also noted that ST has failed to report from evidence in recorded meetings that MDA had no issues with TOC Ltd “seek(ing) foreign funding and are at liberty to partake in activities to help publicise the funding party.”
Earlier this year, MDA has claimed that the advertising revenue from Monsoons Book Club Ltd, a company registered in the UK, was “non bona fide” and has demanded TOC Ltd to return the funds.
TOC Ltd’s letter to The Straits Times is published in full below.
Dear editor of The Straits Times,
The directors of The Opinion Collaborative are disappointed and outraged by the report published in The Straits Times written by Ms Charissa Yong, titled “TOC firm makes public documents showing donations”.
We have engaged The Straits Times and have also spoken to Ms Yong about the case, and have made clear that the issue in discussion relates to our contention with the Media Development Authority over advertising revenue from Monsoons Book Club Ltd. The Straits Times has also been publishing on this case, and cannot deny that it does not comprehend the details.
Hence, we are aghast that the headline, opening paragraphs, general focus of the report, and the picture used in your website appear skewed towards Dr Paul Tambyah at such a convenient time when he is supporting Dr Chee Soon Juan in his bid for the seat of Bukit Batok SMC.
Had Ms Yong bothered to enquire about the nature of Dr Tambyah’s donation, she would have heard from us that they were part of The Online Citizen’s public fund-raising drive initiated in February 2015 in the lead-up to the 2015 General Elections.
The fund-raiser was an open platform for all supporters of TOC to help out, and raised a total of close to S$40,000 for TOC (less administrative charges and bounced pledges). The bulk of it came from members of the public who firmly believed that TOC was an antidote to the skewed media coverage of Singapore politics.
Dr Tambyah has been a strong supporter of civil society and open advocate of media freedom, and we are proud to have his support for this fund-raiser. Your insinuation that there is some kind of revelation about his support for TOC is completely out of place.
Consequently, Ms Yong’s report has completely buried the second key point of contention in our media statement: That MDA, in our recorded meetings with them in September 2014, have clearly indicated that we are allowed to seek foreign funding and are at liberty to partake in activities to help publicise the funding party.
This gross omission has only served to divert the burden of proof away from MDA, as the authority has yet to publicly account for why it deemed Monsoons Book Club Ltd to be a “non bona-fide commercial entity”, when the recording clearly shows that they had stated no such restrictions right from the beginning of our registration.
Furthermore, Ms Yong also wrote that “MDA gave it 30 days, from March 4, to return the money. TOC Ltd did not meet the deadline.” This suggests that there was wrong-doing on the part of The Opinion Collaborative in not adhering to MDA’s demand.
Again, if Ms Yong had bothered to clarify with us or searched earlier articles published by The Straits Times on this issue, she would have discovered that we have appealed for a stay of execution as part of the appeal to the Minister for Communications and Information. The appeal was also lodged before the deadline given by MDA.
Had Ms Yong also bothered to check with MDA, she would have discovered that MDA has made known to the Minister for Communications and Information, who is empowered to reverse MDA’s decision, that the authority is not taking any enforcement action pending the results of the appeal.
We are grossly disappointed with the standard of reporting in The Straits Times with regards to Ms Yong’s report. We demand that you publish this letter in full to properly reflect our position and do justice to our reputation as well as that of Dr Paul Tambyah.