The Online Citizen registers with IMDA to continue operations in Singapore

Screenshot from The Online Citizen
Screenshot from The Online Citizen

The operators behind socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) registered with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) as required under the Broadcasting Act on Friday (23 February).

The move followed TOC’s removal as a political association under the Political Donations Act earlier this month.

In a Facebook post on Friday, TOC wrote that it submitted a registration form at 3pm “in response to (IMDA’s) demand to register with the agency to declare all source of fundings and to have the directors and editors to make statuary declaration of their responsibility to the upkeep of the site and content”.

“IMDA has earlier sent a letter to TOC stating that the website is deemed to be providing a programme for the promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore,” it added.

The mandatory registration with the IMDA meant that action will be taken to cancel the class licence of the website if it chooses not to do so, the website said.

As a result, the website has decided to submit the registration so as to continue operations in Singapore, “despite the heavy responsibility in relation to the declaration and noose tied around its neck”.

It added, “For those who are spurring TOC to operate out of Singapore, it doesn’t work that way. Singapore’s broad media law allows IMDA to bar the IP address of the website for anyone to access from Singapore and TOC can no longer cover live events in Singapore.”

Registered websites must undertake not to receive funding from foreign sources for the provision, management and/or operation of the website, except for bona fide commercial purposes. Other websites that have registered under this rule include news sites The Independent Singapore and the now-defunct The Middle Ground.

On 6 February, TOC was instructed by the IMDA to register with it under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which comes under the Broadcasting Act, according to a post on its website.

In the same post, it wrote that it was removed by the Elections Department as a political association under the Political Donations Act on the same day. This means that it is no longer required to declare its annual donations to the Prime Minister’s Office.

TOC had previously registered under the Broadcasting Act, under the auspices of The Opinion Collaborative (TOCL), the firm that formerly managed TOC. As The Online Citizen Pte Ltd has been formalised as the corporate entity behind TOC, it is now required to be registered.

In 2016, TOCL was told by the authorities to return $5,000 in advertising revenue received from Monsoons Book Club, a UK-based non-commercial foreign entity. While the money was to be used to organise an essay competition, the IMDA considered this a breach of license conditions.

TOC director and chief editor Terry Xu earlier told Yahoo News Singapore that “people have been confused with the idea of TOC being a media outlet and a political association”. The removal of TOC as a political organisation will mean “a clearer position to operate in the Singapore context”.

“Donors and businesses find it confusing to deal with an organisation that is both a media outlet and a political association,” he added.

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