The Elections Department (ELD) has removed socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) as a political association under the Political Donations Act, which means it is no longer required to declare its annual donations to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Separately, TOC’s operators have also been instructed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) that the site must be registered with the IMDA under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which comes under the Broadcasting Act.
While this does not affect the content that TOC puts out, 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.
ELD notified TOC, which was gazetted as a political association in 2011, of the change in classification on Tuesday (6 February).
TOC had previously registered under the Broadcasting Act, under the auspices of The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (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 MDA considered this a breach of the license conditions.
TOC director Terry Xu told Yahoo News Singapore that a meeting with the IMDA had been scheduled for this month. TOC has not been formally notified of the requirement and no deadline has been given for it to register.
Xu, who is also TOC’s chief editor, added, “People have been confused with the idea of TOC being a media outlet and a political association at the same time, because of the gazetting. So with the removal of TOC as a political organisation, it will have 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.”
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