The Online Citizen will carry on

Posted on 14 January 2011

But the prospects of registering and being gazetted is a reality they will grudgingly accept.

By Terence Lee

Red is hardly the right colour to use if you want to tell readers to stay calm. So we changed it to blue. Taken without permission.

YOU KNOW how it’s like to work under a terrible paymaster. You’re only staying on because you believe in the work you’re doing. Just ask the journalists at the Singapore Press Holdings or MediaCorp, who frequently grumble about the censorship that occurs within the newsroom.

The analogy, while imperfect, describes the situation facing The Online Citizen, a prominent socio-political blog in Singapore. Just today, they announced that they will carry on despite being gazetted by the Prime Minister’s Office. They will also register with the Media Development Authority.

But TOC is still taking a combative stance: They have written to the Prime Minister requesting to reverse his decision. If that fails, they will demand further explanation from him.

“We believe that the decision to gazette was unreasonable, arbitrary and incorrect, and was borne of political paranoia,” said the press release.

It added: “We are not sure what his response will be. While we remind the Prime Minister of his promise for a more open Singapore, we will not hold our breath.”

P N Balji, the former editorial director at MediaCorp, does not see registration as a death knell for The Online Citizen.

“If TOC believes in what it is doing, then it should not give up. It will face a squeeze on funding. But that is life in Singapore,” said the veteran journalist, who used to run The New Paper and later Today.

He also believes that TOC can still continue operating as usual, including reporting about the upcoming General Elections. They might have to watch their backs though.

Registration might bring an eventual end to this unofficial blacklist against TOC, since it has acquired some form of legitimacy as a result. The government may become more willing to engage in an organisation that has legal presence.

“I see this as a warning sign,” he said of the government’s actions. “It is a signal to TOC that it will act if it has to.”

Balji acknowledged that the government’s message may have been flawed. And people will invariably ask: Why is TOC targeted and not others?

As if on cue, TOC’s latest press release raised the same point.

“These are issues everyone in Singapore talks about; things we all care about. If the very act of providing a platform, on which these topics can be given a good airing, is considered a jaunt into politics, then everyone in Singapore is a political association, every kopitiam on the island a political platform,” it mentioned.

So far, TOC is neither registered as a business or society. In fact, when it tried applying as a business in 2009, the application was rejected, and it was asked to register under the Societies Act instead.

Since then, they have not done so.

Attempts by TOC to reach out to the government have often been turn downed or gone unacknowledged. Most recently, when it invited the PAP to its Face to Face forum, they did not show up.

Past attempts to include the voice of the ruling party in its articles have also been rejected.

Registration might bring an eventual end to this unofficial blacklist against TOC, since it has acquired some form of legitimacy as a result. The government may become more willing to engage in an organisation that has legal presence.

Besides, clamping down further by suing TOC’s pants off may cost the government too much political capital.

Or maybe they are just waiting till after the General Elections.

This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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