Ex-Today, TOC, ST editors on The Independent team

Mr P N Balji.

SINGAPORE - The Media Development Authority (MDA) has moved to preempt foreign involvement in The Independent, a fledgling local news site, by telling it to register as a class licensee under Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act.

As part of the registration, The Independent - which will be launched on Aug 9 - cannot receive foreign funding for its provision, management or operation.

"The government has received specific information which gives it cause for concern over foreign interest to fund The Independent," MDA said on Monday.

"It is a firmly established principle that foreign entities may not engage in Singapore politics. Foreign interests are not allowed to control - or, worse, to manipulate - our local media platforms, which are prime vehicles for political influence."

In response to MDA's statement on Monday, The Independent said in a statement on its Facebook page: "The Independent is and has always been a purely Singaporean-funded media operation which does not accept foreign funds . . . We are pleased to register . . . and comply with all laws, rules, regulations and code of practice in place to regulate broadcasting in Singapore."

The Independent's editorial team includes several journalism veterans such as PN Balji, former chief executive and editor-in-chief of Today newspaper; Kumaran Pillai, The Online Citizen's chief editor last year; and Edmund Wee, a former journalist and editor at The Straits Times.

The site is fashioning itself as one that brings an "independent perspective on news and current affairs in Singapore".

Its registration as a class licensee is unrelated to the recently introduced individual licensing scheme for news sites.

The site will not have to post a $50,000 performance bond nor abide by the 24-hour takedown notice that other news sites under the individual licensing framework are bound by.

Instead, The Independent's registration falls under the broader "class licence" category.

While most class licences are automatically granted, an Internet content provider that is deemed by the regulator to be involved in "the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues" has to register with MDA within 14 days after the start of its service.

"The registration and undertaking will not in any way affect what The Independent can publish on its website. However, it will prevent The Independent from being controlled by, or coming under the influence of, foreign entities or funding, and ensure that Singapore politics remains a matter for Singaporeans alone," MDA said on Monday.

The Independent is the first non-political entity that has been asked to register.

Other bodies that are registered in the same category - such as The Online Citizen and Think Centre - have been gazetted by the government as political associations.

 


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