MDA WATCHDOG TELLS COMPANY MANAGING SOCIOPOLITICAL SITE THE ONLINE CITIZEN TO REGISTER

SINGAPORE – The Media Development Authority (MDA) has asked the company that is managing socio-political website The Online Citizen to register under a class licensing Act.

In a press statement on Tuesday, the MDA said it has “notified The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC Ltd), the corporate entity behind The Online Citizen (TOC), to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification.

The website itself had been gazetted as a political association in 2011, requiring all its donations to be declared. This also means it can only receive funding from Singaporeans.

In June, it announced that it would be managed by TOC Ltd, a company set up by its editorial and business team, to make it easier to raise funds for the website.

At that time, the TOC said TOC Ltd was meant to be the “corporate entity with which to raise funds, generate, retain and disburse revenue”. TOC Ltd was registered as a social enterprise.

On Tuesday, the MDA said the TOC website “engages in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore”, and that as a corporate entity, TOC Ltd “is susceptible to foreign influence through the receipt of foreign funding”.

“MDA will therefore require that TOC Ltd undertake not to receive foreign funding for its provision, management and/or operation as part of the registration. MDA’s registration requirement seeks to uphold the principle that politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone,” said the media regulator.

Contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Howard Lee, who is one of the directors on the board of TOC Ltd and the commentaries editor of TOC, said: “We are currently discussing some of the details with MDA. There are four directors and everyone is fairly busy, so we hope to get a chance to come together and talk about this first.”

He added that he did not “forsee any major issues” with the registration.

The class licence, enacted in 1996, is automatically granted to Internet content and service providers here. It allows them to operate in Singapore, and also subjects them to rules banning offensive content under the Broadcast Act.

But only some websites, such as those “engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore”, are required to register.

The MDA added in its statement that registration “does not entail changes to the content standards and will not affect what TOC may publish on its website”. It noted that this was the case with current affairs websites The Independent and Mothership.sg.

In July 2013, The Independent was asked by MDA to register under the class licensing Act. Earlier, in March, Mothership.sg had also been asked to register under the same Act. Both websites had complied.

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