The Online Citizen taken offline ahead of IMDA’s deadline

Singapore — Socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) and its social media platforms were all taken down on Thursday morning (Sept 16).

This move comes ahead of the IMDA ruling for TOC to stop posting content on its website and social media channels immediately and disable them by 3 pm on Thursday (Sept 16).

In a statement on Sept 14, IMDA said the socio-political website has repeatedly failed to comply with its legal obligation to declare all sources of funding since around the middle of last year.

It added that if  TOC continues to operate while in breach of the requirements, it may then take steps to block access to TOC in Singapore.

If TOC “does not provide further information to bring it into full compliance”, its class licence could be cancelled by Sept 28, said IMDA, adding that TOC’s officers may also be held liable for criminal offences under the Broadcasting Act.

“There is no reason for TOC not to comply, as other registered Internet content providers provide this information in order to be transparent about their sources of funding,” said IMDA.

On Thursday (Sept 16), the TOC website returned an “access denied” error.

TOC’s Facebook and Twitter profiles were deactivated, while its Instagram account was made private. All video content on TOC’s YouTube channel was delisted.

In a Facebook post on Chief Editor Terry Xu’s Facebook page, he posted a letter by Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers stating that they declare that the organisation does not receive foreign funding but does not wish to “fill up Annex C” on their subscription model. In his post, Mr Xu wrote that in TOC’s reply to IMDA, they said:

“We have already clarified the identity of one of the donors and noted to IMDA that we are fine with donating the other sum if IMDA chooses to order us to do so and also clarified that it was just a mistake in the foreign advertiser figures that were submitted. (Note that all these figures are submitted voluntarily and IMDA had no means of checking if TOC does not fill up the numbers itself)”

IMDA said that the requirement for TOC and other Internet content providers (ICPs) to declare their sources of funding is a legal one, and is not a matter for negotiation. It, therefore, rejected TOC’s offer.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, lawyer Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers, who represents TOC, said the discrepancies were “simple accounting mistakes”.

Mr Lim added that “TOC continues to offer to provide the necessary Form C Declaration if you will stop with your unjustified and unreasonable demand that is subscribers be treated as donors and if you stop with your unjustified and unreasonable interference with their business model of subscriptions”.

Mr Lim also noted that TOC intends to challenge the suspension of its class licence by way of a judicial review. /TISG

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