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The Online Citizen shuts down ahead of Singapore gov’t deadline

Coconuts logo Coconuts 16/9/2021 Coconuts Singapore
text: ‘Access denied’ greeted visitors to The Online Citizen’s website on Thursday, hours before its 3pm takedown deadline. Photo: Coconuts ‘Access denied’ greeted visitors to The Online Citizen’s website on Thursday, hours before its 3pm takedown deadline. Photo: Coconuts

A long-running alternative voice in Singapore’s media landscape went dark today on government order.

After 15 years, The Online Citizen website now returns an error page; its Instagram account is set to private, and its Facebook page unavailable when Coconuts checked around noon. The platform, aka TOC, had been ordered to stop publishing by 3pm today over a dispute with government media regulators over its funding.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority, or IMDA, announced Tuesday that it was suspending TOC’s license over what it said was its lack of transparency regarding its subscription model, which invites readers to pay to see certain topics covered.

The authority said that by accepting money from anonymous supporters, it could be a loophole for foreign influence. 

TOC, which charges the authority is engaging in harassment to muzzle its critical commentary,  could lose its license entirely on Sept. 28 if it does not comply with the authority. 

Last night, Chief Editor Terry Xu attempted to explain his contentious subscription model, saying it did not affect TOC’s editorial independence.  He told New Naratif editor Pingtjin Thum that, while it was true subscribers could pay to suggest topics, his team maintained editorial independence and would “exercise discretion” to only write articles based on facts. 

He insisted that it was not the same as paying for stories they wanted published. 

Xu rejected Thum’s suggestion that this revenue model amounted to advertising. 

“In this case, you have patrons, subscribers, who are more supportive, going for that tier, and they could play a part in terms of the kind of stories that TOC would carry,” he said, noting that TOC wanted “to have a group of well-wishers who would fund TOC and be part of the whole content creation process.”

Like TOC, New Naratif has run into government complaints that it is supported by readers outside of Singapore. It is not registered with the authority.

On its now-deleted donation page, TOC had advertised that it would author and publish opinion pieces (S$120), investigative reports (S$500), and feature stories (S$1,000). No editorial guidelines or requirements were specified.

The Online Citizen was started in 2006 by founders Andrew Loh and Remy Choo, both of whom have since departed.

text, letter: The Online Citizen’s donation page before the website was removed. Photo: Coconuts © Provided by Coconuts The Online Citizen’s donation page before the website was removed. Photo: Coconuts
This article, The Online Citizen shuts down ahead of Singapore gov’t deadline, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.

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