SINGAPORE: The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has ordered the States Times Review to take down an article which the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has said is baseless and defamatory.
If the alternative news website fails to do so by 5pm on Friday (Nov 9), IMDA will direct Internet Service Providers to restrict access to the site, it said in a statement.
The article in question, titled Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB’s Key Investigation Target, was posted on Monday on the website.
It alleged that Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore in exchange for Singapore banks’ assistance in laundering the funds of Malaysian state fund 1MDB.
The States Times Review refused to take down the article, it said in a Facebook post at about 6pm on Friday.
The States Times Review website was inaccessible at about 9pm, checks by Channel NewsAsia showed, although the Facebook post on the article in question was still accessible.
A message displayed on the website read: "The website that you are trying to access is unavailable as it contains prohibited material." Readers were directed to the IMDA's website for more information on how it regulates content.
IMDA later said it had directed ISPs to restrict access to the States Times Review, as the website had failed to comply with the 5pm deadline.
Shortly after access was restricted, founder Alex Tan wrote again on Facebook, saying that the website had been "blocked under false charges of 'fake news' and 'criminal defamation' and that he planned to shut it down. He also said he would "stop writing and continue (his) life in Australia".
The Monetary Authority of Singapore said on Friday morning it has filed a police report over the article, which it said was false, defamatory and "impugned its integrity".
"Accordingly, IMDA has assessed that the article undermined public confidence in the integrity of the Singapore Government and is objectionable on grounds of public interest, and would therefore constitute prohibited content under IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice," the media authority said.
IMDA said it has also asked Facebook to take down a post sharing the article, but the social media platform did not accede to the request.
"ERRONEOUS" CLAIMS, SAYS SOURCE QUOTED IN ARTICLE
The States Times Review article also said that the editor of Sarawak Report, Ms Clare Rewcastle, had revealed in an interview with Malaysian media that "Singapore is one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States" in the 1MDB scandal.
Sarawak Report responded to this claim on Thursday by calling it "erroneous" and disowned the remarks. It also sought a correction from States Times Review.
"SR has not given any such interview and has not written on this subject," Sarawak Report said in a Facebook post.
"The article moreover is unclear in its direction and meaning."
STATES TIMES REVIEW EDITOR WELCOMES LAWSUIT
The States Times Review editor Alex Tan on Friday posted on the site's Facebook account, saying he "fully welcomes a libel suit" from Mr Lee in an Australian court.
"If the Singapore Prime Minister feels he has been wronged by the allegations, he should rightfully commence legal proceedings right away," he said.
"STR believes in independent and accurate reporting, and as such, if the Prime Minister could deliver a reasonable explanation to the 'fake news' ... I am willing to take the first flight home and turn myself in to the Singapore police," added Mr Tan.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the article added a "nasty and malicious twist" to bilateral issues that had been made public and contained "absurd allegations".
He said the Government is taking the incident seriously and that the police would take action based on investigations and advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers.