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TOC, gazetted

by Christopher Ong from The Kent Ridge Common

Source: wqow.com

The Government has sent shock waves across Singapore by ordering The Online Citizen, one of the country’s most popular socio-political websites, to be gazetted as a political organization. This gazetting means that The Online Citizen (TOC) will not be able to use any of its new media platforms during the upcoming General Elections to voice its support for any political party or personalities, according to the TOC website.

If successful, The Online Citizen will be the first blog not only in Singapore but perhaps in the world to be classified as a ‘political organization’. The reaction towards this political gazetting of one of Singapore’s most successful socio-political blogs has been largely critical, with many also believing that it is the first step before several other socio-political blogs are classified too as ‘political organizations’. What then, many may fear, is a complete blackout of alternative news sources and forums during the period of the General Elections.

The Online Citizen’s proud history over the years include touching on topics such as the mandatory death penalty, the situation of the homeless in Singapore, Mas Selemat’s escape from a high security prison, to its extensive coverage of the AWARE incident and everyday bread-and-butter issues confronting the common man on the street. Most recently, it organized a highly successful forum, Face2Face — in which a member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was invited but did not show up — that brought together key figures of the opposition parties in Singapore such as Chee Soon Juan, Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and Kenneth Jeyaratnam together for the first time in many years.

The vitriolic response to what many see as an attempt to control The Online Citizen threatened to boil over with hundreds of frustrated comments left on several other popular blogs and forums in Singapore, such as the Hardwarezone forum and Temasek Review, that provided coverage of the event. Most urged The Online Citizen not to back down in the face of a possible gazetting as a political association, and encouraged it to continue its operations. Some suggested far-fetched ideas of mirroring The Online Citizen to a foreign server, in order to bypass this mandatory registration.

For Singaporeans, most felt for the first time, today, a very real fear of losing their source of free speech and thought on the Internet.

In the eyes of many, the justification of the political gazetting of The Online Citizen, because it “has the potential to influence the opinions of their readership and shape political outcomes in Singapore”, is a terribly weak one. Given this line of argument, should not other instruments such as the REACH website, The Straits Times or even the NUS Political Association for that matter be similarly considered as independent political entities, and not be allowed to pledge any form of support for any one party or personality using their respective platforms during the General Elections?

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