Singapore

Ex-owner of The Online Citizen returns ad revenue to British firm

The company that used to manage socio-political website The Online Citizen has complied with an order to return $5,000 in advertising revenue to a company based in Britain.

Yesterday, The Opinion Collaborative (TOC) said it had returned the funds "under protest", after its appeal against the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) order was unsuccessful.

It had taken the money in 2015 from Monsoons Book Club, a non-profit company in Britain. It said the money was for a sponsorship deal for an essay competition on The Online Citizen.

IMDA said TOC had gone against conditions, which forbid organisations registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification Act from receiving foreign funds, except for "bona fide commercial purposes".

TOC was still running the website at the time, but in September that year, it stopped doing so.It was given 30 days to return the money - marking the first time a registered website was asked to return ad revenue.

TOC said it disagreed with the justifications given by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in upholding the regulator's order.

TOC director Tan Tee Seng, said in a statement thatlosing the money "could have left us in debt, and seriously crippled us".

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said evidence submitted by TOC showed it was aware of the restrictions on foreign funding but had "structured the transfer of $5,000 in order to circumvent these, by making it look like bona fide commercial advertising".

TOC also questioned why an advertiser should not be able to state its preference on how its investment can be used.

MCI reiterated yesterday that it is a long-standing principle that foreign interests are not allowed to control or manipulate Singapore's media platforms.

"Recent events globally have demonstrated the risks of foreign interference in political discourse," it added.

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