‘Kingmaker’ TOC to be Gazetted

Donaldson Tan

The Gazette is a visual kei rockband from Japan.

The Gazette is a visual kei rockband from Japan.

In an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) signaled its intention to gazette The Online Citizen (TOC) as a political association. According to the PMO, members of the political association should include the owners, the editorial team and the administrators. TOC has 14 days to register and designate a President, Treasurer and Secretary.

Furthermore, the Media Development Authority (MDA) deems TOC to be “providing a programme for the promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore”. As such, the website has to be registered with the MDA ‘under condition 4 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class License) Notification’.

TOC is a popular group blog that provides commentaries and reports on political developments and current affairs pertaining to Singapore. Hailing itself as a community of Singaporeans, TOC has championed many issues, ranging from the cost of living to homelessness and the mandatory death penalty. It has certainly come a long way since it was first established in December 2006.

This is not the first time that the government had indicated its preference for TOC to be registered. Between late 2008 and early 2009, TOC had sought registration under the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) as a Limited Liability Partnership. However, the application was rejected after 2 months of deliberation. TOC was told to register as a society alternatively. With over 10,000 Facebook fans and a website that commands 12,000 to 15,000 unique hits daily, TOC is a force to be reckoned with, in terms of online outreach and commercial potential.

The PMO’s move has already caused disquiet in the political circles. Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party Dr Chee Soon Juan noted that it is the PAP government’s usual ploy to turn everything into political associations so that the government can control everything. He also added that this reveals the sclerotic mindset of an authoritarian government.

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha of the Singapore Democratic Party further added:

It seems to me to be the doings of an overzealous officer in the Prime Minister’s Office. I find it difficult to believe that Mr Lee Hsien Loong is so terrified of the General Elections, so terrified of how the new media will report on his government’s record over the last 5 years, so insecure about the effects of his 14.7% GDP, that he would resort to the kind of cowardly bullying that passed for governing when his father was at the helm. But they say acorns never fall very far from the oak tree.”

The Secretary-General of the Reform Party Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam told New Asia Republic:

I have only seen TOC’s statement. It rather begs the question how the government can keep a straight face while maintaining SPH is non-political!”

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the National Solidarity Party Mr Goh Meng Seng said:

Apparently, PAP has broken its promise of light touch on internet regulation. Singapore bloggers have to unite to think through carefully the implications of such a move if this is allowed to happen to TOC without a fight.”
The panelists at the Face-to-Face Forum

The panelists at the Face-to-Face Forum

However, sources familiar with the ruling party informed New Asia Republic that TOC is no longer deemed as New Media after it had “overstepped” the line by organising the Face to Face Forum last month. The Face to Face Forum was a successful multi-party public dialogue that was held last month at the Quality Hotel. It attracted over 350 members of the public with every Opposition political party represented in the panel.

While organisations such as the NUS Political Association (NUSPA) have organised similar multi-party dialogues, these dialogues are not open to the public. NUSPA events are strictly for students and faculty of the National University of Singapore (NUS). Comparatively, NUSPA dialogues were of much smaller scale than that of TOC. Also, being a Constituent Club of the NUS Student Union, NUSPA is barred from receiving foreign funding.

As a political association, TOC is not allowed to use its funds, premises and new media platforms during General Election***. It still remains unclear how this will impact the outreach campaigns by Opposition political parties from now till General Election which is expected to take place before February 2012.

“I’m all game for it,” said Mr Goh Meng Seng, undeterred by this new development.

CORRECTION***: According to its website, The Online Citizen claims that it cannot use its funds, premises and new media platforms during General Election as a political association. This is inconsistent with the Political Donations Act and may be due to mis-interpretation of the aforementioned Act.