MDA decision to shut down TRS was politically motivated and directed by Yaacob Ibrahim
How can we tell if the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) shutting down of The Real Singapore (TRS) was politically motivated? It’s quite simple. We examine whether it has any legitimate reasons for its actions. MDA has put forth three reasons for shutting down TRS. First, and most importantly, it claims that its articles “sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore,” and were therefore a threat to religious harmony. Second, it claims that many of these articles were fabricated and falsely attributed to innocent parties. Third, it claims that TRS has adopted a strategy of “deceiving readers and doctoring articles” in order to “increase traffic to TRS” and “make profit at the expense of Singapore’s public interest and national harmony.
Threat to religious harmony?
MDA claims that TRS threatens religious harmony but fails to cite specific examples of articles which do so. It has also failed to demonstrate how TRS threatens religious harmony. So far, it has merely made the accusation and relied on the fact that there is an ongoing case against two of its editors. However, since people should be innocent until proven guilty, the allegations against TRS made by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) should not be taken as fact.
If we consider the seven articles which the AGC claims is seditious, we should also compare those articles with similar ones published in STOMP and The New Paper (TNP). If there is a genuine concern that religious harmony is threatened by such articles, why isn’t STOMP or TNP being shut down by MDA? MDA is clearly not being entirely honest when it says that this is why it wants to shut down TRS.
Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, has repeated this claim, stating that TRS was shut down because it threatened religious harmony. He has even said that the decision was approved and directed by himself, claiming that “we [referring to himself and the MDA] do this”. Since a Minister under the People’s Action Party (PAP) made this decision, it is reasonable for us to suspect that the decision was politically motivated by a desire to clamp down on a site that has been highly critical of the government.
MDA’s second claim is that TRS fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties. Again, apart from saying that they have a lot of evidence, MDA and Yaacob Ibrahim have not pointed out any particular examples. So far, the accusation lacks any basis whatsoever.
But if TRS did indeed make untrue statements in its articles, the question is whether they have corrected those statements. In many instances, they have. The same cannot be said for the same mistruths that are published in the mainstream media and on sites like STOMP.
MDA’s decision to shut down the entire website rather than order that particular articles be taken down is a draconian restriction of the alternative media which suggests that its decision was politically motivated.
MDA’s last claim is that TRS sought to profiteer from its website and therefore resorted to sensationalism. Again, MDA has failed to provide any evidence. It has also failed to show why it is wrong to seek to make a profit out of the media. Singapore Press Holdings is run as a profitable organisation and its mainstream newspapers, as well as STMOP, are all highly sensationalist too. There is no good reason for singling out TRS when other newspapers are motivated by profit too.
The only situation under which MDA may ban a publication is when that publication harms the public interest. A publication that seeks to make a profit does not necessarily harm the public interest if it does so within limits. If TRS has exceeded those limits, MDA has the responsibility to explain how those limits were exceeded. Its attempt to damage the credibility of TRS by claiming that it is profit-motivated is an abuse of its authority and a further indication that its decision was politically motivated.
Yaacob Ibrahim has taken personal responsibility for the MDA’s decision even though he has not done anything useful. He now claims that “MDA has done the right thing” and that “you can see all the evidence we have put forward in terms of the materials in which they have published.” But the MDA has not published any evidence. If he is referring to the case that is being made by the AGC in the courts, it only shows that he is now attempting to bypass the court’s authority by acting even before the judge has made his decision. Once again, his impatience suggests that the decision is politically motivated.