Singapore cancels news site's license; critics cry intimidation

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 15 2021 07:31 PM

A Singaporean news website often critical of the government had its license canceled Friday for failing to declare funding sources, with the editor slamming it as "harassment and intimidation" of independent media.

The Online Citizen (TOC)had long been in the authorities' crosshairs for running stories more critical of the authorities than those in the pro-government mainstream media.

Its license was suspended last month by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which had ordered the website to comply with a requirement to disclose funding sources.

IMDA said the website had "repeatedly refused to comply" despite reminders and extensions and canceled its permit with immediate effect.

The regulator said registered websites engaged in the "online promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore" must disclose funding sources to prevent foreign interference.

The website's chief editor Terry Xu said he refused to comply because it would have meant disclosing the identities of his subscribers.

"We cannot betray the trust and privacy of our subscribers just simply to continue our operations," he told AFP.

He described the regulator's move as "nothing more than harassment and intimidation of independent media" in Singapore, which has been frequently accused by rights groups of stifling media freedoms.

Last month, Xu and one TOC writer were ordered to pay substantial damages after losing a defamation suit against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore's parliament earlier this month also passed a law aimed at preventing foreign interference in domestic politics, but which the opposition and activists criticized as a tool to crush dissent.

The law would allow authorities to compel internet service providers and social media platforms to provide user information, block content and remove applications used to spread content they deem hostile.

Singapore ranks 160th out of 180 countries and territories in Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, where number one indicates the country with the greatest media freedoms.