The Online Citizen registers with MDA, but slams foreign funding rule

The company that manages socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) yesterday registered with the Media Development Authority (MDA) under a class licence.

The move requires The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC Ltd) to "undertake not to receive foreign funding for its provision, management and/or operation".

It is the third website to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which comes under the Broadcasting Act.

The other two are The Independent and

TOC Ltd director Howard Lee announced the registration yesterday, and said the MDA's "obsession with foreign funding" hindered the company's operations.

"As owners of a small business, we cannot possibly afford to spend time filling in forms every month," said Mr Lee, on having to ascertain and declare the company's funding sources.

The class licence, enacted in 1996 under the Broadcasting Act, automatically covers Internet content and service providers in Singapore which operate here.

But some websites, such as those that promote or discuss political issues relating to Singapore, are required to register with MDA.

Mr Lee urged the MDA to do away with the regulatory framework, saying it was inconsistent with the aims of growing Singapore's media sector.

The MDA refuted Mr Lee's assertions last night, and said its concern with foreign funding was "neither excessive nor unwarranted".

An MDA spokesman said: "The registration upholds the longstanding principle that politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone."

Also, the restrictions extended only to foreign donations for the company's socio-political website, and TOC Ltd was free to receive money from foreign advertisers or subscribers for "bona fide commercial purposes" and its other businesses, she added.

"Such a regulation recognises the evolving nature of an online social enterprise and can hardly be regarded as excessive," she said in a statement.

Mr Lee also called on the Government to delist TOC as a political association, which requires it to declare all donations it receives. Also, its funds must be only from Singaporeans.

He said that since TOC Ltd had registered with the MDA, "fears of foreign sources funding TOC are completely unfounded".

The MDA spokesman said that gazetting TOC as a political association in 2011 was not the same as the current registration required of TOC Ltd, which is a corporate entity set up in June this year. "While there is some overlap, the members of TOC and the directors of TOC Ltd are not the same," said the MDA spokesman.

This article was first published on Nov 11, 2014.
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