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Singapore’s The Online Citizen’s licence suspended after failing to declare funding, Lim Tean attributes discrepancies to “simple accounting mistakes”

TOC will be required to stop posting content on its website and social media channels by 3 pm on Thursday.

Obbana Rajah THE INDEPENDENT SG Tue, September 14, 2021

SINGAPORE – The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has suspended the class licence of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC).

TOC will be required to stop posting content on its website and social media channels by 3 pm on Thursday. In a statement on Tuesday (Sept 14), the IMDA said the website has repeatedly failed to comply with its legal obligation to declare all sources of funding since around the middle of last year.

The IMDA said on 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.

The Independent Singapore is the other website in Singapore that is 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.

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)”

IMDA said that the requirement for TOC and other Internet content providers (ICPs) to declare their sources of funding is a legal one, and is not a matter for negotiation. It therefore rejected TOC’s offer.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, lawyer Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers, who represents TOC, said the discrepancies were “simple accounting mistakes”.

He also accused IMDA of “hypocrisy and inconsistency” for allowing Critical Spectator website and Facebook page to comment on Singapore affairs and politics despite it being run by a foreign commentator, Polish national Michael Petraeus.

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Mr Lim added that “TOC continues to offer to provide the necessary Form C Declaration if you will stop with your unjustified and unreasonable demand that is subscribers be treated as donors and if you stop with your unjustified and unreasonable interference with their business model of subscriptions”.

Mr Lim added that TOC intends to challenge the suspension of its class licence by way of a judicial review.


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