Saturday, January 15, 2011
PAP moves to control The Online Citizen
Singapore moves to curb popular news website
Singapore plans to impose restrictions on a liberal, popular news website ahead of general elections Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may call this year.
The Prime Minister's Office plans to designate "The Online Citizen" (www.onlinecitizen.com) as a "political association," which means the website is banned from accepting donations from abroad.
The office said the website was not barred from supporting any political party or candidate in local elections.
"As a website that provides coverage and analysis of political issues, TOC (The Online Citizen) has the potential to influence the opinions of their readership and shape political outcomes in Singapore," said the Registry of Political Donations, which comes under the Prime Minister's Office.
"It has been gazetted to ensure that it is not funded by foreign elements or sources," the registry added.
The Online Citizen, which is run by volunteers, declined comment.
Oppositions politicians in Singapore have complained of biased coverage by the city-state's newspapers and television.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 133rd among 175 countries in its 2009 World Press Freedom Index.
An increasing number of Singaporeans, in particular the young, have been turning to websites such as The Online Citizen and Temasek Review (www.temasekreview.com) for alternative views about developments in Singapore.
The Online Citizen, for example, has lobbied against laws that discriminate against homosexuals, taking a different stance from newspapers published by Singapore Press Holdings, which generally adopt a pro-government stance.
Singapore has gazetted several groups as political associations in the past, including the Singapore arm of a regional human rights advocacy body. The action against The Online Citizen is the first against a website.
Other restrictions The Online Citizen will face once it becomes a political association include a requirement that it list the identities of its owners, editorial team and administrators.
It must also designate a president, treasurer and secretary who will be held responsible for the preparation and accuracy of reports about donations to the site.
Prime Minister Lee told members of his ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to prepare for elections during an annual meeting on Nov 28. Although elections need not be held before February 2012, some observers believe polls could take place as early as March this year.
Investors have been drawn to Singapore, a financial center and manufacturing hub, for its
stability and the PAP, founded by Lee's father Lee Kuan Yew, has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965.
The country's opposition parties currently have just two of 84 seats in Parliament but may make inroads during coming polls amid a widening income gap and unhappiness over rising property prices.
From TOC's website:-
Singapore's online community was abuzz with excitement after The Online Citizen (TOC), a popular group blog that discusses politics and current affairs, was told by the government it will be gazetted as a political association.
This means that they cannot accept donations from foreign sources, among other restrictions. For instance, they will also need to list the identities of its owners, editorial team and administrators.
Why being gazetted should be look on as an honor
I think TOC should feel proud about being given this honor. To be so influential that the ruling party thinks you are a potential shaper of opinions at the coming elections, and need to be gazetted, well, that's like getting a National Day Award!
Some of you might be thinking, perhaps it may be better to run a website that discusses politics anonymously in future. Or maybe the entire TOC team should just shut down the site and start a new one with secret identities.
I have some suggestions for new website names. How about:
1. The Unknown Citizen website
2. The Anonymous Citizen website
3. These Are Not The Online Citizens You Are Looking For website
And the writers and editors can give themselves pseudonyms too. Like, Chief Editor: Mr Giant Potatohead. Foreign Correspondent: Mr Suk Mai Kok. Political Desk: Miss Kant Sue Mi.
Then when the government sends them a letter to tell them to register themselves as a political association, the letter will read:
"Dear Editors of Feeling Oppressed Citizen website,
As a website that provides coverage and analysis of political issues, FOC (Feeling Oppressed Citizen) has the potential to influence the opinions of their readership and shape political outcomes in Singapore.
Hence, FOC has been gazetted to ensure that it is not funded by foreign elements or sources.
We hereby require Chief Editor Giant Potatohead, Foreign Correspondent Suk Mai Kok and Political Correspondent Kant Soo Mi to provide the identities of the site's owners, editorial team and administrators.
Mr Potatohead, Mr Kok and Miss Mi have 14 days to comply.
The Department of Gazetting"
It's all WikiLeak's fault!
May I also point out that "gazette" should not be mistaken for the word "garrote". They sound alike but garrote is to strangle someone with a cord or wire, a great way to silently kill someone off. "Gazette" is nothing like that.
However there are some drawbacks to operating a political website anonymously. It would make it hard for the government to recognize you for your great contributions to society.
I think there has been great concern about the online media's influence lately. With the WikiLeaks saga fresh in their minds, the government has warned that anyone caught leaking any official government documents in Singapore will be "dealt with firmly."
Even if you were just leaking what someone else leaked, all leakers will be prosecuted. So we need to mindful before we take a leak.
But what about the taxi uncles?
Frankly, I think the government should extend their gazetting to other entities. Taxi drivers, for instance, provide coverage and analysis of political issues, and have the potential to influence the opinions of their passengers and shape political outcomes in Singapore.
So taxi drivers should all be gazetted as political associations.
This may complicate their ability to be paid by foreigners taking their cabs but trust me, it is for the Greater Good of Singapore. We can't have people giving their opinions about politics here willy-nilly and influencing political outcomes.
Taxi drivers who pick up passengers in future will need to ask for proof of identity. If the passenger is not a local, the taxi driver needs to reject the passenger's money. One way around it would be for the foreign passenger to give the money to a citizen, who can then pay the taxi driver directly.
Another way is for the foreign passenger to become a citizen. This will then give the passenger the right to fund the taxi driver.
However, given the current political climate and the fact that the elections are coming, I recommend that foreign passengers apply for their citizenship or permanent residence after the elections. They will stand a better chance then.
I wish to add that becoming a political association will in no way restrict taxi drivers from their current practice of disappearing from the streets just before the midnight surcharge kicks in.
Oh, by the way, those opinionated old men at coffee shops had better watch out too. They could be next to be gazetted.