It’s a curious case, this whole STR and Singapore Herald business.
On 9th November, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) asked for service providers to restrict access to the States Times Review website for publishing an article linking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the 1MDB investigations.
After refusing to remove the article, and a failed attempt by the IMDA to have Facebook remove the post, editor of STR one Mr Alex Tan announced that he was shutting down the website.
In a FB post announcing the shutdown, Mr Tan said that he decided to shut down the website as it has ‘lost a channel to reach Singaporeans’.
And after failing to comply with IMDA's demand to remove the article, the authority ordered the Internet Service Provider in Singapore to block access to the website.
In his Facebook post several days after announcing the shutdown of STR, Alex said a Canada-based reader of STR reached out to him about continuing the website. This anonymous individual apparently gave Mr Tan ‘assurance’ that he is a citizen of both Canada and Singapore. It is obviously illegal under Singapore law to hold citizenship of another country while you’re also a citizen of Singapore – a fact Alex didn’t address in his post. This is a little suspect, I’m sure you can agree.
Mr Tan proceeded to say that while he first rejected the offer, he then reconsidered. Mr Tan apparently gave this new editor a 3-hour ‘STR crash course’ complete with pointers and a discussion of Singapore affairs. Mr Tan wrote, “I am satisfied to say that he is fairly competent, even though he is much younger than I am”.
The former STR editor also apparently set up a new site for this anonymous Canadian/Singaporean, this one called Singapore Herald.
Mr Tan wrote that this new person will be the “solely in-charge of the writing and the IT back-end. I will have no editorial rights, nor will I interfere with his editorial”. And yet, we’ve only heard from Alex.
One diligent and eagle-eyed netizen actually tracked down the IP address and server of Singapore Herald which clearly shows the website is being hosted on the same server that STR was using. So how ‘new’ is this website and is Tan really as ‘uninvolved’ in Singapore Herald as he claimed to be? At the very least, there has to be some form of payment for the use of STR's server.
The Singapore Herald published an exclusive interview on Thursday with Alex in talking about the shutdown of the STR. The interview was not credited to any specific author with the interviewer only referred to as ‘Singapore Herald’ throughout. So we only have Alex Tan’s word that SH is a completely different entity run by a completely different person.
I’m sceptical, and I’m not the only one:
Clearly, if the authorities can tie Alex Tan directly as the one running the new site, they can block it again. So perhaps this is just a way for him to circumvent the blackout – by setting up a new site and claiming it is run by someone else.
Right now, it sure does seem like he didn’t just ‘teach’ the new Singapore Herald editor but actually just passed his site along – under a different name – to a ‘new person’.