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The Online Citizen’s licence suspended, ordered to stop posting on website and social media

The Online Citizen’s licence suspended, ordered to stop posting on website and social media

The Online Citizen logo. (Photo: Facebook/The Online Citizen)

SINGAPORE: The Online Citizen's (TOC) licence has been suspended and the alternative news provider has been ordered to stop posting on its websites and social media accounts.

It has two weeks – until Sep 28 – to provide further information to fully comply with the Broadcasting Act. If it fails to do so, its licence may be cancelled, said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Tuesday (Sep 14).

This comes after TOC failed to declare all its funding sources, despite "multiple reminders and extensions". It has not provided a good reason for its non-compliance, IMDA said in a media release.

Registered Internet content providers such as TOC, which promote or discuss political issues relating to Singapore online, are "required to be transparent" about their sources of funding. This is to prevent foreign influence in domestic politics, IMDA said.

Under Section 12 of the Broadcasting Act, IMDA can cancel or suspend the licence of a broadcasting licensee if it is found to have contravened any conditions of its licence. A fine may also be imposed.

With the suspension, TOC has to stop posting articles on its websites and its social media channels and accounts. It will be required to disable them by 3pm on Sep 16. 

TOC is also not allowed to operate any new licensable broadcasting services online.

If it fails to comply, IMDA said it may restrict access to these services. It is also a criminal offence for TOC to continue operating these services and its officers may be held liable.

IMDA said last week that TOC had previously declared its funding sources when it first registered in 2018. But in 2019, it failed to verify a donor and to clarify discrepancies in its foreign advertising revenue, for which the authority issued a warning in May this year.

In its 2020 annual declaration, TOC "repeatedly failed" to declare all its funding sources and informed IMDA that it does not intend to comply.

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

The authority said it provided a “final opportunity” for TOC to explain its non-compliance by Sep 13. 

In TOC’s Sep 13 response to IMDA, which the authority said was received after the stipulated deadline, the website purportedly offered to provide the “necessary declaration” – on the condition that IMDA would not seek further clarifications regarding its subscription framework and funding sources. 

IMDA said it “fully considered” TOC’s representations. 

“The requirement for TOC to provide information concerning the provision of its broadcasting service to IMDA is a requirement by law to ensure full transparency.

“It is therefore not a matter of negotiation,” it said.

In response to CNA's queries, TOC's chief editor Terry Xu confirmed that TOC has received the notice of suspension from IMDA. 

"We are still in the midst of considering our options, particularly challenging the decision to exercise the suspension of its other platforms," said Mr Xu.

He added that they are looking at the Broadcasting Act clause that IMDA cited to suspend TOC's "digital publication services", as it has not been "previously tasked to register for a class licence for them as it had for the website".

Source: CNA/ad(cy)

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