SINGAPORE – Singapore's media regulatory agency on Tuesday (14 September) suspended The Online Citizen (TOC)'s class licence to operate its websites and social media accounts.
This means that the news website, with immediate effect, is not allowed to post any articles on these platforms, and will be required to disable them by 3pm on Thursday, said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in a press statement.
It is also not allowed to operate any new licensable broadcasting services online.
“If TOC fails to comply, the IMDA may take steps to restrict access to these services. It is also a criminal offence for the TOC to continue operating these services and its officers may also be held liable,” said the authority.
The news website’s class licence may be cancelled if it fails to provide further information to fully comply with the Broadcasting Act, it added.
This comes after the TOC repeatedly failed to declare all its funding sources for its 2020 annual declaration despite “multiple reminders and extensions”.
Under the Broadcasting Act, registered Internet content providers, such as the TOC, which engage in online promotion and discussion of political issues relating to Singapore are required to be transparent about their funding sources.
The IMDA noted that TOC had also said that the news website does not intend to comply with its obligations under the law. The authority said that it provided a “final opportunity” for TOC to explain its non-compliance by Monday.
“While the response was received after the stipulated deadline, the IMDA has nonetheless fully considered the TOC’s representations,” it added.
The IMDA said that it had repeatedly asked the TOC to clarify various elements of its subscription framework, which is allowed under the licence as a revenue model.
One element of the TOC’s subscription framework allowed “subscribers” to get specific articles written, in return for “subscription funding” received. “This is a cause for concern as it could be an avenue for foreign influence,” said the IMDA.
The IMDA said that the TOC has insisted for such “subscriptions” to be excluded from its full declaration of funding sources, while refusing to provide further information to clarify its overall subscription framework.
“This is not consistent with full disclosure and transparency,” said the IMDA.
The authority added that TOC, in its response on Monday, had purportedly offered to provide the “necessary declaration”, on the condition that the IMDA assures the website that it will not seek further clarifications regarding its subscription framework and its funding sources.
“The requirement for the TOC to provide information concerning the provision of its broadcasting service to IMDA is a requirement by law to ensure full transparency. It is therefore not a matter for negotiation with the IMDA,” said the IMDA.
According to the authority, the TOC had previously declared its funding sources when it first registered in 2018 but had not fully complied with this obligation since 2019.
The IMDA had on 4 May issued a warning to the news website for its failure to verify a donor and to clarify discrepancies in its foreign advertising revenue in its 2019 declaration.
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