A popular critical Singapore news website on Friday defied the authorities’ plan to register it as a political site, which would impose restrictions on its sources of funding.
On Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office told the editors of The Online Citizen (TOC) that the government intended to classify the forum as a political group.
In letters published on the forum Friday, the TOC editors urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to reverse his decision, saying ‘the determination is unreasonable’ and ‘was borne of political paranoia.’
‘We firmly believe that it will have significant chilling effects on free expression in Singapore,’ the letter said.
The reclassification of the site would require it to provide information on its owners and administrators, and prohibit it from receiving any foreign funding.
The government said the new designation was necessary to ensure TOC ‘is not funded by foreign elements or sources.’
In the tightly controlled city-state, the TOC and other news blogs have become popular with Singaporeans looking for alternative views to the generally pro-government mainstream media.
The government statement pointed out that in principle, the website was ‘entirely free to continue with its normal, lawful operation.’
In a parallel move, Singapore’s Media Development Authority on Monday said the TOC should be registered as a political internet site under the broadcasting regulations.
These regulations prohibit any online content deemed to be ‘against the public interest, public order or national harmony.’
They would also make it compulsory for the website to give up the identities of writers and editors to the authorities.
Critics have claimed the government is clamping down on political debate ahead of general elections expected later this year.
‘When the elections come, liberalization goes,’ former nominated legislator and activist Siew Kum Hong told the Straits Times newspaper.