The Prime Minister’s Office wants to gazette us. The Media Development Authority demands that we register. And according to Zaobao, TOC harbours ambitions of being a “kingmaker”. Wow. We’re a little overwhelmed. Suddenly, we’ve become much more than we ever thought we were – this little blog, run on little more than a whole lot of heart and sweat, and the occasional tear.
The email from the PMO arrived at 5pm, on Monday. We were informed that we had 14 days to disclose the names of our Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary and goodness knows who else. The fact is, TOC is not organised that way. We’re not made up of people interested in committees. Those who call us a political association are clearly missing the point.
So what exactly is TOC?
It’s right up there on our masthead, has been all along – “A Community of Singaporeans”.
We are an open platform. Anyone who wants to join us, can. Anyone is welcome to send us stories, photographs, videos, cartoons, or even just ideas. Over the years, TOC has collaborated with hundreds of people. Some stay for the long haul, contributing in all sorts of ways; others join for just a week, a month, or even a day. They chip in because they like a particular project or story; or simply because they have a bit of time to spare and want to help.
Our structure is fluid and ever changing. But there is one constant – we’re all volunteers. We do this because we’re concerned Singaporeans who believe that it is better to ask questions and raise issues, than shut up, sit down, and never be heard at all.
From highlighting the plight of the homeless and disabled, to calling for a moratorium on the mandatory death penalty, to exposing unscrupulous employers who mistreat their foreign workers, to examining problems in our education system, to raising questions about our immigration policy, TOC has over the years, broken numerous stories and championed multiple issues. To call us a political association simply for doing so is, well, daft.
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.
Where does our money come from?
Well, here’s a shocker – virtually all our activities are self-funded. Public contributions and income from ad sales barely cover the costs of maintaining operations. In fact, co-founder Andrew Loh exhausted nearly all his savings running TOC from 2006 to 2010. Volunteers are lucky if they even get reimbursed for transport costs.
So what will we do?
TOC is confident in our ability to continue operating within the framework of the Political Donations Act and stand ready to take up the challenge of being the first website in Singapore to operate as a political association. Moving forward, the TOC editorial team will comprise up to four members. These individuals are willing to come forward and be named as the team behind TOC, and to bear the responsibilities and legal liability that comes with being gazetted as a political association.
As we demand openness and transparency from our government, we have similarly been careful to remain completely above board in our operations. We have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from gazetting. We believe that shutting down or going underground is precisely what those who misunderstand us want and will be fodder to discredit the blogosphere. We will not give them that satisfaction.
If registering is what it’ll take to continue our contribution to Singapore, we’ll do it and send a clear message that we will not be intimidated into exiting the arena of public discourse.
We also believe that the public deserves a response from the Prime Minister, and to hear his explanation as to how a group of bloggers can constitute a political association. We believe that the decision to gazette was unreasonable, arbitrary and incorrect, and was borne of political paranoia. We have therefore written to the Prime Minister requesting him to reverse his decision, failing which we expect him to justify his position.
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.
But our volunteers at TOC do not write at the pleasure of the Prime Minister’s Office. Whatever Mr Lee’s response and however he chooses to label us, you can be sure of one thing: TOC is here to stay.
Acting Chief Editor
Choo Zheng Xi