[UPDATE on 17 December, 10:40am: The MDA's response to the Breakfast Network's statement is below:
The MDA refutes the allegations made in Ms Bertha Henson’s ‘Back for Breakfast’ statement issued today. Firstly, Ms Henson alleged that MDA’s replies to her had been vague. We object to this. The MDA has been precise in advising Ms Henson on the registration requirements of Breakfast Network Pte Ltd (BNPL) and it is for her to then decide how she wants to proceed with her business. We have informed her that should she decide not to register with MDA, BNPL would have to cease its online service and this is precisely what Ms Henson has gone on to do. We fail to see where we have been vague in this instance. In fact, Ms Henson herself has been vague. She has not clearly indicated to us who would own and run the various online iterations of Breakfast Network, when these services cease to exist under the corporate entity, BNPL. We can only advise her when she has clarity herself on the next steps.
Secondly, we object to Ms Henson’s allegation that we were late in our replies to her when she had already made the decision to shut down her service on 9 Dec even before we could respond to her 7 Dec email. This was after MDA explicitly informed her on 6 Dec that the deadline for registration has been extended to 17 Dec.]
Local independent news website Breakfast Network has announced it will be shutting down its parent company, it said on its Facebook page on Monday.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the team said the decision was made after the Media Development Authority (MDA) said previously that "it is the mode of operation" that exposed Breakfast Network to "greater possibility for foreign influence".
It revealed that it received a letter from the authority saying that "should BNPL (Breakfast Network Private Limited) continue to exist, it must not operate any websites, Facebook pages, Twitter pages or any programme on the Internet which would constitute a contravention of MDA's registration requirements".
It also noted, however, that "it is not a requirement" for the company to be wound up in order for Breakfast Network to not have to register under the Class Licence scheme.
The team then shared its official response to the MDA, saying it will provide proof that it is winding up the company and will not continue with its website.
It stated additionally that it will continue posting on its social media accounts until and "unless MDA declares that this is against the requirements of the Class Licence".
Previously on Friday, the MDA said in a statement that Breakfast Network is not allowed to operate on social media like Facebook and Twitter.
The site, which recently rolled its metaphorical shutters down after deciding not to register for a Broadcasting Notification class licence when the MDA required it to do so, initially announced to its followers that it would post articles and links to blog posts hosted elsewhere on its Facebook page.
In a statement posted on its website, however, the MDA said Breakfast Network Pte Ltd "should cease to operate its online services".
"Should Breakfast Network Pte Ltd remain active as a company, it must not operate any iteration of www.breakfastnetwork.sg on other Internet platforms as doing so would contravene MDA's registration requirements," the authority wrote. "These other Internet platforms include Breakfast Network's Facebook page and Twitter feed."
Content is not the issue, rather the mode of operation, reiterated the MDA, citing the "greater possibility for foreign influence" that exists with Breakfast Network not registering itself and pledging not to receive foreign funding.
Breakfast Network was founded — and funded — by former Straits Times associate editor Bertha Henson, who left the paper in May 2012. The Singapore-based site, which served up news and commentary pieces on local politics and current affairs, among other issues, carried articles both by Henson and by other contributing writers — one of whom was a full-time paid staff member.
In announcing her decision not to submit registration forms to the MDA for the broadcasting notification class licence, she wrote on 10 December, "We asked for a month's extension of the deadline. MDA gave us a week. It did not think a month was required because 'the forms are straightforward' and it had 'clarified' the issues. It does not understand that it is not just a question of form-filling but also wrapping our heads around what registration means… really, means."
Clarifying that a mention of a requirement to name Breakfast Network's volunteer contributions was "false", the MDA said pro-bono editorial team members should be listed only if they are responsible and/or involved in the "provision, management and/or operation of the website".
"There is no departure from our Internet regulatory framework," the authority added.
Responding to reports on this latest development, Henson said in a post on Breakfast Network's Facebook page on Friday afternoon that her team will comply with the MDA's instructions, while seeking clarification on the authority's terms of operation on its Facebook page.
Encouraging members of the public to communicate with her via her personal Facebook account and her blog, Henson also promised to "work hard to get this community up and running again".