IMDA asks The Online Citizen to verify local donors by collecting full names and NRIC numbers

Info-Communication Media Development Authority has issued a letter to The Online Citizen asking the website to verify local donors (Photo: IMDA & The Online Citizen SG / Facebook)
Info-Communication Media Development Authority has issued a letter to The Online Citizen asking the website to verify local donors (Photo: IMDA & The Online Citizen SG / Facebook)

Donors of sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) must now be considered as “verified local sources” and can only qualify when TOC has obtained their full names, identification numbers and Singapore Citizenship status.

This was shared by TOC in an article published by editor Terry Xu on Friday, with a screenshot of a signed letter from Ms Eileen Long, the assistant director for broadcast and films at the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

The move comes as TOC is raising funds for its coverage of Singapore’s next general election, using mediums such as Patreon, Pozible and its own subscription channel to gather donor support.

So far, TOC has raised more than S$35,000 (US$25,400) in its Pozible campaign, with a goal to reach S$100,000. It is unclear what the split is between local and foreign donors within the Pozible campaign.

In the letter by IMDA, Long states that the government is aware of TOC’s fundraising efforts and reiterated that TOC is only able to accept local donations if the website has the donor’s full name, identification number and Singapore Citizenship status.

“In the absence of any of the above information, TOC will not be allowed to receive the individual’s contribution,” said Long in her letter.

TOC must reject contributions made by unverified local donors, but it is unclear if verified local donor details need to be shared with IMDA.

The letter adds to rules that have already been set in place for TOC to reject foreign funding and inform IMDA within seven days if it knows or has reason to believe that it has received funds from a foreign source.

In his rebuttal, TOC editor Xu alleges that IMDA’s actions in preventing foreign intervention are a “sheer intimidation and harassment of the press”.

Daniel Yap, former editor of now-defunct sociopolitical website The Middle Ground, criticized the letter and said “flimsy” rules on foreign funding for sociopolitical websites affected his former website as well, in a Facebook post on Friday.

“The attempt to define destructive political content as ‘foreign’ while pretending that ‘local’ money and influence are benign are utterly misguided,” said Yap.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong and secretary-general of the People’s Power Party Goh Meng Seng called the move “outrageous” and “absurd” respectively on their Facebook pages.

TOC editor Xu was recently charged for defaming members of the Cabinet of Singapore through an article written on the website, although it was later revealed that the man who had written the letter for TOC had allegedly sent it from someone else’s email account.

Coconuts Singapore has reached out to IMDA to obtain additional information.


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