Socio-political site The Real Singapore (TRS) was taken down yesterday evening and its social media platforms were disabled following orders issued by the Media Development Authority of Singapore's (MDA).
In a press statement, the regulatory body said it has suspended the statutory class licence for Ai Takagi, 22, and Yang Kaiheng, 26, to run TRS' website, Facebook page, Twitter page and mobile applications.
Although they were told to stop producing new content from 2pm onwards yesterday, The New Paper found that TRS made a new post at about 2.30pm about yesterday's boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.
The editors were given six hours (from 2pm) to take down all content on the TRS website, as well as disable its social media platforms. These they complied with by 7.30pm.
Takagi and Yang are also not allowed to resume TRS operations under a different name.
In addition, the pair are expected to provide information related to TRS' operations within a week.
The New Paper understands that this includes information about the other editors involved in TRS as well as its financial information. They can also make their case why their licence should not be cancelled before Sunday.
MDA's move, the first of its kind, comes in the face of the court charges faced by the couple.
Last month, Takagi and Yang were each charged with seven counts under the Sedition Act and one count of not producing documents necessary for investigations. (See report at right.)
A third person linked to TRS, a Malaysian who calls herself Melanie Tan, has not been arrested and is believed to be in Australia.
An MDA spokesman said the licence was suspended because Takagi and Yang had breached the Internet Code of Practice by publishing "prohibited material as defined by the Code to be objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony".
This includes articles that were intentionally fabricated and falsely attributed to innocent parties.
TRS had also come under fire for inserting falsehoods in articles to make them more inflammatory. The articles were either plagiarised from local news sources or sent in by contributors.
In 2013, for instance, TRS carried an article, "PAP MP Irene Ng: We should not play the blame game over the haze problem", which it falsely attributed to a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, Ms Irene Ng.
That prompted Ms Ng to file a police report in which she called the article "pure fiction".
Said the MDA spokesman: "The MDA believes this editorial strategy of deceiving readers and doctoring articles was an attempt to increase traffic to TRS and thus boost advertising revenue.
"In so doing, TRS, including its two foreign editors, were seeking to make profit at the expense of Singapore's public interest and national harmony."
Although TRS was founded in 2012, MDA was unable to take action as the TRS editors were previously running the site outside Singapore.
"However, since December, the two of them have been running their operations from Singapore, bringing them within the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Act," the spokesman said.
When contacted yesterday, MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, declined to comment on MDA's actions as it was too "premature".
But he pointed out that there was a difference between alternative news sites being critical and putting up false stories to evoke certain emotions.
"Sites like Mothership, Inconvenient Questions and Bertha Harian can be critical, but as far as I know, they do not fabricate stories to stir anti-foreigner sentiments.
"Each story has an author who is held accountable for the story he has written," he said.
If activity or new content is found on TRS' website and Facebook and Twitter accounts, Takagi and Yang may be fined up to $200,000 each, and/or receive a jail term of up to three years.
If they do not produce the information required by MDA, they may be fined up to $5,000 and/or be jailed for not more than a year.
TRS FOUNDERS IN THE DOCK
Ai Takagi and Yang Kaiheng, the pair behind socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS), each faces seven counts under the Sedition Act and one count of not producing documents necessary for investigations.
They were charged last month over publishing online articles which allegedly promoted ill-will and hostility between Singaporeans and foreigners.
Yang, 26, is a Singaporean while Takagi, 22, is a former Japanese national who now holds Australian citizenship.
The articles, which had appeared on TRS' website and Facebook account, were published between October 2013 and Feb 4 this year.
One story that appeared on its website on Feb 4, titled "Video: Local Singaporeans Complain of Police Brutality at Thaipusam Procession", allegedly "falsely asserted" that a Filipino family had caused an incident between the police and participants of the procession the day before.
Court papers alleged that publication of the story had the tendency to "promote feelings of ill-will and hostility" between ethnic Indians in Singapore and Philippine nationals in the country.
Under the law, anyone found guilty of omission to produce documents to a public servant can be jailed up to one month, or fined up to $1,500, or both.
If convicted of reproducing seditious publication, Yang and Takagi can each be fined up to $5,000 or jailed a maximum of three years, or both. The pair were each granted court bail of $20,000 and are expected to appear in court for a pre-trial conference on May 12.
This article was first published on May 4, 2015.
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