TOC goes offline ahead of deadline set by IMDA

Its website also not accessible from outside Singapore; social media channels go dark as well

Socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) and its various social media channels were taken offline yesterday morning, ahead of a 3pm deadline set by the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Attempts to access the TOC website returned an "access denied" error. The website was also not accessible from outside Singapore.

TOC's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles were deactivated, while all video content on its YouTube channel was delisted.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, TOC chief editor Terry Xu confirmed that he had taken the website offline at around 9am.

He also said he intends to file a judicial review against IMDA's order for TOC to suspend its social media platforms.

Mr Xu noted that in 2014, the then Media Development Authority had "clearly stated that the licensing is for the purpose of the website and there had been no mention of the social media platforms".

Noting that IMDA controls licensing in Singapore only and not the rest of the world, he said the authority "cannot reasonably expect TOC to cease all its operations outside of Singapore just because it has suspended the class licence that it granted for the purpose of operation in Singapore".

The development comes after IMDA on Monday suspended TOC's class licence to run its website and social media channels owing to its repeated failure to comply with legal obligations to declare all sources of funding.

TOC has not fully complied with this obligation since 2019, IMDA had said. It set a deadline of 3pm yesterday for TOC to disable its website and social media channels, adding that it would take steps to block access to TOC in Singapore otherwise.

The authority also threatened to cancel TOC's class licence by Sept 28 if it "does not provide further information to bring it into full compliance". It added that TOC's officers may be held liable for criminal offences under the Broadcasting Act.

ST understands that IMDA had not yet taken steps to block TOC in Singapore when the website went dark.

Founded in 2006, TOC had styled itself as Singapore's longest-running independent online media platform.

Since at least 2016, it has largely been a one-man show run by Mr Xu.

On Sept 1, Mr Xu was ordered by the High Court to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong $210,000 for defamation over an article published on the TOC website.

According to Mr Xu's lawyer Lim Tean, a crowdfunding effort to help Mr Xu pay the damages had raised close to $195,000 as at Wednesday night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2021, with the headline 'TOC goes offline ahead of deadline set by IMDA'. Subscribe