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TOC’s letters to the PMO and the MDA

Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Istana
Singapore 238823

Date: 14 January 2011

Re: PMO’s Intention to Gazette The Online Citizen

Dear Prime Minister Lee,

We refer to the letter of 11 January 2011 from Mr Lee Seng Lup of the Prime Minister’s Office (“the Letter”). The Letter informed us that “The Prime Minister intends to declare the owners, editorial team, and administrators of The Online Citizen (TOC), by order in the Gazette, to be a political association for the purposes of the Political Donations Act”.

TOC is familiar to many Singaporeans: we are a website that provides regular Singaporeans with a platform to share their opinions about all aspects of life in Singapore, and we aspire to be the medium through which those neglected by society find their voice. Accordingly, we have run articles about homelessness in Singapore, the widening income gap, migrant workers, civil society, political issues and even have a regular column dispensing sexual advice.

In short, we are a place where Singaporeans can come and talk about what is foremost on their minds. We do not engage in partisan politics, and we have no interest in engaging in partisan politics. TOC is political to the extent and in the exact same way that all ordinary Singaporeans are political: by being interested in, and talking about, political issues that impact us and our country.

We therefore disagree with the intent to gazette TOC as a “political association”, and the determination that TOC is “an organization whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore”. The determination is unreasonable, arbitrary and incorrect. Accordingly, we request that you reconsider the matter and reverse that determination and the decision to gazette TOC, failing which we trust that you will set out the grounds upon which that determination and the decision to gazette TOC were made.

Mr Prime Minister, TOC has operated without issue for the last four years. We have  never accepted foreign donations, nor do we expect or intend to do so in the future. We do not fear the consequences of being gazetted as a political association. But we write this letter because we disagree with the decision to gazette us, and we firmly believe that it will have significant chilling effects on free expression in Singapore.

The vast majority of our contributors write under their actual names and all have chosen to volunteer their time and effort despite being students, professionals, blue collar workers or retirees. None of us do this for money or profit. All of us, in one way or another, believed your promise of a more open society when you said in your first National Day Rally speech as Prime Minister: “Engage your ideals, your ideas, your energies, build a new generation, build tomorrow's SingaporeWe've got to support Singaporeans being spontaneous, being unconventional.  We should not put obstacles in their way.  We should help them to succeed.

The TOC team and contributors came forward to play our part in building tomorrow’s Singapore. You may disagree with our views, but you cannot doubt our sincerity and patriotism. This unprecedented attempt to gazette a blog as a “political association”, likely just months before the next general election, is a disappointing retreat from your inspirational words all those years ago.

Mr Prime Minister, if you truly believe in the importance of developing a vibrant Singapore and a concerned citizenry, then please reverse your decision. Otherwise, our nation-building efforts will be set back by years.

Yours sincerely,

Joshua Chiang
Acting Chief Editor

Choo Zheng Xi
Co-founder

Andrew Loh
Co-founder

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14 Jan 11

Ms Yvonne Ann Paglar
Head (Licensing Policy)
Developing Policy Division

For Chief Executive Officer
Media Development Authority of Singapore

3 Fusionopolis Way
#16-22 Symbiosis
Singapore 138633

Dear Ms Yvonne Ann,

RE: Letter of Notification to register The Online Citizen (TOC)

1. We refer to your letter of 11 January 2011 requiring us to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification (“the Letter”).

2. We received your notice one day after the letter from Prime Minister's Office stating his intention to gazette us as a Political Association under the Political Donations Act. As such, it is clear to us that your request for us to register is tied to the Prime Minister's intention.

3. TOC has written to the Prime Minister seeking a reversal of the decision to gazette us as a political association and we will not be sending you any information pending the outcome of that appeal.

4. Thank you.

Yours sincerely
The Online Citizen