The Online Citizen: RIP, sooner or later


Singapore’s longest-running independent online media platform, with a mission to voice for the voiceless in Southeast Asia.


The Online Citizen (Chinese: 网络公民), founded in December 2006 by Andrew Loh and Remy Choo Zheng Xi,[1][2] is a community blogging platform involved in political activism in Singapore.[3] It describes itself as a group of advocacy journalists who report on topics not generally covered by the mainstream media.

In 2011, the Singapore Registry of Political Donations gazetted the platform as a political organization, noting that the editors of the website organized online and offline campaigns to change legislation and government policies.[4] Under the Political Donations Act, political entities cannot receive funds from foreign contributors[5] and anonymous contributions above SGD 5000.

In February 2018, TOC was de-gazetted as a “political association”, as it is currently only run by one man – editor Terry Xu, who has been responsible for the development of content since 2011, when its core team of editors left.[6][7]

The Infocomm Media Development Authority suspended TOC’s license in September 2021 over a dispute over reports on funding sources. [8]



The Online Citizen must disable website, accounts by Sept 16, after licence suspended for failure to declare funding sources


Published September 14, 2021
Updated September 14, 2021

The Infocomm Media Development Authority has suspended The Online Citizen’s licence
This means it must disable its website, social media accounts by 3pm on Sept 16, 2021
The website was not compliant after it failed to declare funding sources despite repeated reminders, extensions
Should it fail to comply, the authority may take steps to restrict access to the site and may hold its officers liable for criminal offences
The website's subscription model allowed people to request specific articles to be written if they provided “subscription funding”

SINGAPORE — The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has suspended the class licence of sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) for its failure to declare its funding sources.

It is thus prohibited from posting articles on its website as well as social media channels and accounts, which it must disable by 3pm on Thursday.

In a statement on Tuesday (Sept 14), IMDA, which regulates internet content providers, said that TOC had “repeatedly failed” to declare all its sources of funding in its 2020 yearly declaration despite many reminders and extensions.

Should TOC fail to comply with the suspension, IMDA may take steps to restrict access to TOC and may hold its officers liable for criminal offences under the Broadcasting Act.

TOC has until Sept 28 to provide the disclosures so that it may be compliant with the law, IMDA said.

The authority may cancel TOC’s licence “if it does not provide further information to bring it into full compliance” with the Broadcasting Act.

The sociopolitical website had earlier told IMDA that it did not intend to comply with its obligations under the law.

IMDA said: “There is no reason for TOC not to comply, as other registered internet content providers provide this information in order to be transparent about their sources of funding.”

The class licence requires content providers that engage in the online promotion or discussion of Singapore’s politics to be transparent about their sources of funding. This is to prevent them from being controlled by foreign actors or coming under the influence of foreign entities and funding.



Singapore Aims to Cripple a Press Critic

The Online Citizen faces an onslaught of legal and government actions

John Berthelsen

The Online Citizen, one of the few independent news publications in Singapore, appears to be about to be put out of business from at least three different angles after having crossed swords with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In addition to two government actions against it, the news portal’s editor, Terry Xu, lost a defamation case to Lee on September 1 and was ordered to pay the prime minister S$210,000 (US$156,283) over a 2019 article that dealt with the bitter feud between the prime minister and his siblings over the disposition of their father’s historic mansion. The article reproduced allegedly defamatory statements by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling. But instead of suing his brother Hsien Yang and sister Wei Ling for the comments, Lee chose to take on the Online Citizen and its editor Xu.

For decades, the Lee family have used Singapore’s malleable courts to bring defamation and contempt cases against luckless defendants including some of the world’s most powerful newspapers such as units of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Financial Times and others. They have never lost a case in the Singapore courts against news organizations or political opponents although their desultory efforts to use the courts elsewhere have not been successful,

But over recent months dissidents in Singapore have successfully used crowdfunding to blunt the sting of fines imposed by the Singapore courts. In April, political candidate Leong Sze Hian became the first to raise enough to fully pay off S$133,000 ordered by the high court after he was convicted of sharing an article uploaded onto Facebook deemed to have libeled Lee Hsien Loong. Roy Yi Ling Ngerng, a dissident now living in exile Taiwan who was sued by Lee, also used crowdfunding to pay off his debt to the Singapore courts.

Following the verdict Xu’s allies started a crowdfunding project that so far has raised more than $185,000 from more than 1800 contributors to pay off the fine and looks likely to pay all of it. 

The growing frequency of successful crowdfunding exercises is regarded by the government’s critics as an example of the fading power of the Lee family to use defamation suits to defang those who defy them, especially as the feud between family members has continued and the prime minister is perceived to be using the arms of the government to punish his siblings.

It now appears that the defamation suit having failed to bankrupt Xu, the government will seek to put The Online Citizen out of business through other means. This week, the news portal’s license was suspended and it was ordered to stop posting on its websites and social media accounts and gave it two weeks to declare all of its funding sources despite “multiple reminders and extensions” by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, which said it hasn’t given reasons for its non-compliance, IMDA said in a media release.

Under the IMDA’s regulations, internet content providers that promote or discuss political issues are “required to be transparent” about their sources of funding, supposedly to prevent foreign influence in domestic politics.

The Online Citizen responded that it offered to provide the necessary declaration on the condition that IMDA would not seek further clarifications regarding its subscription framework and funding sources. 

According to local media, IMDA said it was denying the publication’s request and that it is “not a matter of negotiation.” Xu confirmed to local media that he had been notified of the suspension and that he was “still in the midst of considering our options, particularly challenging the decision to exercise the suspension of its other platforms.”

At the same time, the government introduced a measure in parliament that the Home Affair Minister said is aimed at quelling foreign interference in Singapore’s political sovereignty and national security, but which critics say is aimed squarely at the likes of Xu and The Online Citizen.

In May, an anonymous publication called “Fathership” published an article titled “Meet the Malaysian writers running The Online Citizen” whose source apparently was Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. It named Rubaashini Shunmuganathan (who co-wrote the article concerning the Lee feud for which the publication was sued by Lee), Cathleen Fernandez, Aldgra Fredly, Roxanne Tai, and Stephen Nitto as five Malaysians writing for the publication.

The Online Citizen “attacks the government with its team of Malaysian writers,” the article charged, citing an instance in which the publication alleged that police had bullied an elderly woman suffering from dementia who wasn’t masked. Shanmugam said it is a “regular” occurrence that the Online Citizen attacks the Singapore government with its “team of Malaysian writers.”


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