IMDA Response To Queries On The Online Citizen Pte Ltd

Last updated: 07 September 2021

Published on: 07 September 2021

SINGAPORE – 7 September 2021: The Infocomm Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) has received a number of queries regarding its Show Cause Notice to The Online Citizen Pte Ltd (“TOC”).

Registered Internet Content Providers, such as TOC, which are engaged in the promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore online, are required to be transparent about their sources of funding. This is to prevent such sites from being controlled by, or coming under the influence of foreign entities or funding, and ensure that there is no foreign influence in domestic politics.

TOC has repeatedly failed to declare all its funding sources for its 2020 annual declaration despite multiple reminders and extensions granted to TOC. TOC has informed IMDA that it does not intend to comply with its obligations under the law. IMDA has therefore asked TOC to explain its non-compliance.

There is no reason for TOC not to comply, as other registered Internet Content Providers provide this information in order to be transparent about their sources of funding. IMDA notes that TOC had previously complied with this annual declaration when it first registered in 2018. However, since 2019, TOC has not fully complied with this obligation. TOC failed to verify a donor and to clarify discrepancies in its foreign advertising revenue in its 2019 declaration, for which IMDA had issued a Warning on 4 May 2021.

The threat of foreign interference in our domestic politics has always been present. Singapore was a target of two such operations in the 1970s involving newspapers The Eastern Sun and the Singapore Herald. These newspapers received funding from foreign sources and ran articles that sought to undermine Singapore’s nation-building efforts. There have also been reports from other countries, that foreign players and their agents attempted to influence their politics by buying off political parties and individual politicians. We need to be cautious as the prevalence of the Internet and social media platforms makes it easier to influence large numbers of people.

IMDA takes a serious view of non-compliance with the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification. If TOC is unable to provide good reasons for its non-compliance, IMDA may take appropriate enforcement action.

Extensions for 2020 Declaration

Date  
3 Sep 2020
TOC submitted an incomplete annual undertaking on 5 May 2020. Following some clarification, IMDA asked TOC to submit the missing funding details by 17 Sep 2020.
23 Feb 2021
TOC submitted a revised annual undertaking on 17 Sep 2020, which was again incomplete. IMDA asked TOC to submit the missing funding details by 9 Mar 2021. 
5 Mar 2021
TOC requested for extension to 20 Mar 2021; IMDA agreed to TOC’s request for extension.
20 Mar 2021
TOC requested for further extension to 23 Mar 2021; IMDA agreed to TOC’s request for further extension.
30 Apr 2021
TOC responded to IMDA on 23 Mar 2021. TOC offered to only submit partial information for its annual undertaking and stated that it had no intention to fully comply with all requirements. IMDA reiterated that TOC was required to submit the information in full to ensure transparency in funding sources to safeguard against foreign influence in domestic politics. IMDA urged TOC to re-consider its position and to submit the missing funding details by 14 May 2021.
 
TOC did not respond to IMDA’s letter.

ISSUED BY THE INFO-COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY


About Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA)

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) leads Singapore’s digital transformation with infocomm media. To do this, IMDA will develop a dynamic digital economy and a cohesive digital society, driven by an exceptional infocomm media (ICM) ecosystem – by developing talent, strengthening business capabilities, and enhancing Singapore's ICM infrastructure. IMDA also regulates the telecommunications and media sectors to safeguard consumer interests while fostering a pro-business environment, and enhances Singapore’s data protection regime through the Personal Data Protection Commission. For more news and information, visit www.imda.gov.sg or follow IMDA on Facebook IMDAsg and Twitter @IMDAsg.

For media clarifications, please contact:

YUEN Hui Tian (Ms)
Manager, Communications and Marketing
DID: (65) 6955 0263
Email: Yuen_Hui_Tian@imda.gov.sg

CHUA Hian Hou (Mr)
Deputy Director, Communications and Marketing
DID: (65) 6202 4956
Email: Chua_Hian_Hou@imda.gov.sg