Firm that managed The Online Citizen told to return funds from foreign advertiser

SINGAPORE - The Opinion Collaborative (TOC Ltd), which up until September (2015) managed socio-political website The Online Citizen, was told on Friday to return advertising revenue to a foreign advertiser.

In a statement on Friday, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said TOC Ltd had received $5,000 in April last year from Monsoons Book Club to advertise on The Online Citizen website.

Since Monsoons Book Club is a "non-commercial foreign entity incorporated in the United Kingdom", TOC Ltd had breached licensing conditions under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, MDA said.

The company has 30 days to return the money to Monsoons Book Club, described as "a non-profit making association of concerned individuals interested in books and ideas relevant to the social, political and economic progress in the South-east Asian region."

Among its three directors is fugitive Tan Wah Piow, a former student union leader who absconded from national service duties in the 1970s. Company records from the United Kingdom register of companies shows that the company was registered in February last year.

Under licensing rules, TOC Ltd is not allowed to receive funding from foreign sources for the provision, management, or operation of The Online Citizen website except for "bona fide commercial purposes", the MDA said.

It added: "This is to ensure that foreign entities do not engage in domestic politics and to uphold the principle that domestic politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone."

TOC Ltd was registered in April 2014 as a social enterprise to make it easier to raise funds for The Online Citizen website. It managed the website until September last year.

In a statement announcing the split, TOC Ltd said the editors of the website wanted to "seek their own methods of sustainable funding", rather than use TOC Ltd's business model.