Company behind socio-political website TOC registers under class licence notification

A screengrab of the homepage of socio-political website The Online Citizen. -- PHOTO: THE ONLINE CITIZEN WEBSITE 
A screengrab of the homepage of socio-political website The Online Citizen. -- PHOTO: THE ONLINE CITIZEN WEBSITE 

SINGAPORE - The company which manages socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) has submitted its forms to register under a class licence, which prohibits the company from receiving foreign funding.

The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC Ltd) had been asked by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which comes under the Broadcasting Act, by Nov 10.

This means it had to "undertake not to receive foreign funding for its provision, management and, or, operation as part of the registration".

In a press statement on Monday announcing that it had done so, TOC Ltd also asked for the TOC website to be de-listed as a political association.

In 2011, the website had been gazetted as a political association, requiring it to declare all donations it gets. Funds can come only from Singaporeans.

Said TOC Ltd on Monday: "The fact that we have complied with all these indicates that fears of foreign sources funding TOC are completely unfounded. As such, we look forward to the Prime Minister's Office lifting the gazetting requirements on TOC as a 'political association'."

The company was set up in June as a social enterprise to make it easier to raise funds for the website. Its four-man board of directors comprises mainly members from the TOC website's editorial and business team including commentaries editor Howard Lee, executive editor Terry Xu and finance executive Lee Song Kwang. Businessman Tan Tee Seng, an activist and former Internal Security Act detainee, rounds off the group.

While the company has complied with the MDA's request for it to register, TOC Ltd also said in its press statement on Monday that the MDA's "obsession with foreign funding" had hampered its operational effectiveness.

"As owners of a small business, we cannot possibly afford to spend time filling in forms every month," it said.

It urged the MDA to do away with the regulatory framework completely, saying that the framework was inconsistent with the aims of supporting the growth of Singapore's media sector.

The class licence, enacted in 1996, is automatically granted to Internet content and service providers here. It allows them to operate in Singapore and subjects them to rules under the Broadcasting Act. But only some websites, such as those which promote or discuss political issues relating to Singapore, are required to register.

The Independent and Mothership.sg current affairs websites had also been asked by the MDA to register under the class licensing Act and had complied. Another website, Breakfast Network, was asked to register in November last year, but chose not to do so and had to close as a result.