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The Online Citizen fails to declare funding source to IMDA, launches judicial review challenging suspension order

SINGAPORE — Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) has failed to submit information on its funding sources to the authorities by the Tuesday (Sept 28) deadline, with its chief editor saying he had no intention of doing so.

The Online Citizen fails to declare funding source to IMDA, launches judicial review challenging suspension order

Mr Terry Xu (pictured), chief editor of The Online Citizen website, said that the Infocomm Media Development Authority has overstepped its authority in ordering the site to suspend its social media pages.

  • The Infocomm Media Development Authority had given The Online Citizen until Sept 28 to submit information on its funding sources
  • The sociopolitical website’s chief editor said he has no intention of doing so
  • It has launched a judicial review challenging the order to suspend its social media pages

 

SINGAPORE — Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) has failed to submit information on its funding sources to the authorities by the Tuesday (Sept 28) deadline, with its chief editor saying he had no intention of doing so.

“We would also like to reiterate that TOC has never received any foreign funding,” chief editor Terry Xu told TODAY on Tuesday.

Instead, TOC has launched a judicial review to dispute the order by the Infocomm Media Development Authority for the site to suspend its social media pages.

TOC had taken down its website and social media pages two weeks ago after IMDA suspended its class licence for failing to declare its funding sources.

As part of the suspension, TOC was ordered to disable its social media channels and accounts by Sept 16. IMDA gave TOC until Sept 28 to submit the required disclosures or face possible cancellation of its class licence.

Asked what further steps IMDA would take against TOC given that it has failed to meet the deadline, the authority told TODAY on Wednesday: “IMDA reserves the right to take further action, in accordance with the law.”

Among other things, TOC is seeking to challenge that it was unlawful for IMDA to order it to disable its social media pages and that TOC’s class licence covers only its websites, not its social media pages.

A pre-trial conference was held on Wednesday morning in the High Court before Senior Assistant Registrar David Lee.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, TOC’s lawyer Lim Tean from Carson Law Chambers said that the sociopolitical site is seeking four quashing orders and 10 declaratory orders against IMDA.

Mr Lim, who is also an opposition party leader, said: “No licence has ever been issued by IMDA to any person or entity for the use of social media in Singapore, and none is required.” 

He added that the registrar has directed TOC’s application to be heard in court on Nov 22.

At present, the court proceedings are regarding the suspension of its social media pages and not of TOC’s class licence, Mr Lim said, although he had stated in a Facebook post two weeks ago that TOC reserves the right to challenge the licence suspension at a later date if needed.

Mr Xu said: "We are looking forward to the hearing of the judicial review on IMDA's orders against TOC as we firmly believe the agency has overstepped its authority.”

IMDA declined to comment on the judicial review as the matter is now before the courts.

The broadcasting class licence requires content providers that engage in the online promotion or discussion of Singapore’s politics to be transparent about their sources of funding. This is to prevent them from being controlled by foreign actors or coming under the influence of foreign entities and funding.

IMDA said earlier this month that TOC had repeatedly failed to reveal all its sources of funding in its 2020 yearly declaration despite several reminders and extensions.

Among the information IMDA sought was regarding TOC’s subscription model, which had allowed people to request specific articles to be written if they provided “subscription funding”, without having to disclose their identity.

IMDA said then that this was a cause for concern because it could be an avenue for foreign influence, and highlighted this as a possible loophole that TOC had been exploiting through its paid subscription model.

Mr Xu said on Tuesday: “IMDA's invalidation of TOC's subscription model in 2019, which has been in existence since 2014, is nothing but harassment against TOC and intimidation of TOC's subscribers.”

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