TOC Ltd appeals to MCI to reverse MDA order to return funds from British firm

One of TOC's directors, Mr Howard Lee.
One of TOC's directors, Mr Howard Lee.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Internet content provider The Opinion Collaborative (TOC Ltd) has asked the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) to step in to reverse an order for the company to return funds from a British firm.

TOC Ltd director Howard Lee said on Tuesday (April 5) in a statement that his company is also considering legal action against the Media Development Authority (MDA).

The regulator, a statutory board under MCI, had on March 4 asked TOC Ltd to return $5,000 it received from British firm Monsoons Book Club (MBC), which has Singaporean fugitive Tan Wah Piow as one of its directors.

TOC Ltd was given 30 days, until 11.59pm on Monday (April 4), to do so. It did not return the money and has written to Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

In the letter Mr Lee said the MDA's actions were "unjustified".

MDA had said the company had gone against specified licensing conditions in accepting the money.

TOC Ltd, registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification Act, cannot receive funding from foreign sources for the provision, management and operation of the website, "except for bona fide commercial purposes".

Mr Lee said he disagreed with the regulator's assessment that MBC is a non-commercial foreign source, and that the money received was not used for a bona-fide commercial purpose.

TOC Ltd had said the $5,000 was for a sponsorship deal for an essay contest that ran on The Online Citizen website last year. The company stopped managing the socio-political site last September.

But the MDA said MBC is a not-for-profit private company incorporated in Britain and is thus a non-commercial foreign source. Since it is also not primarily engaged in commerce, any advertising revenue TOC Ltd receives from it would not be deemed to be for "bona fide commecial purposes", the MDA said.

Mr Lee said MDA had made "serious allegations about TOC Ltd's integrity and reputation by suggesting that we are not a law abiding company".

In the past month, TOC Ltd had written thrice to MDA asking for the demand to be dropped. In its most recent letter on Saturday, it had asked MDA who exactly was involved in deciding that it should return the money, among other things.

The MDA had written back twice.

Mr Lee told The Straits Times on Tuesday evening that he had not heard back from MCI.

Dr Yaacob's press secretary said on Tuesday that the minister "will be issuing instructions to both sides regarding the procedures to be followed in an appeal".