Monday, December 6, 2021

Political blog in Singapore loses licence over funding disclosures

The Online Citizen, founded 15 years ago, had styled itself as an alternative voice to mainstream local media, which many people in Singapore see as pro-government.

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Singapore’s media regulator has rescinded the licence of a local political blog for failing to declare its funding sources, a requirement in a city-state that has tightened its rules to prevent foreign influence in its political affairs.

The Online Citizen (TOC), founded 15 years ago, had styled itself as an alternative voice to mainstream local media, which many people in Singapore see as pro-government.

The site’s editor and one of its writers were earlier this year sued by Prime Minister Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.

Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority on Friday said TOC, which allowed voluntary subscriptions, had since 2019 not fully complied with rules.

It said registered sites that engage in political discussion of Singapore issues must be transparent about their funding “to prevent such sites from being controlled by foreign actors… and to ensure that there is no foreign influence in domestic politics,” the IMDA said.

It also said it was concerned TOC’s model, which allowed its subscribers to provide content, could be susceptible to foreign influence.

Its editor, Terry Xu, said TOC was not willing to “betray the trust and privacy of our subscribers” by listing them as donors to meet funding declaration requirements.

Xu, who previously said TOC had never received foreign funding, accused the agency of overreach.

“Its action is nothing more than harassment and intimidation of independent media in Singapore,” he told Reuters.

Singapore says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling. Its parliament this month approved a law granting broad powers to the government to deal with foreign interference.

The political opposition and experts are concerned about its wide scope and limits on judicial review.

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