In an attempt to shut down news site The Online Citizen (TOC), the propaganda Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim issued a direct order for TOC to return a S$5,000 ad revenue it received from UK-based publisher Monsoon Book Club.
In April 2015, the UK publisher paid TOC S$5,000 to put up an advertisement for an essay competition on TOC’s website.
Minister Yaccob Ibrahim takes issues with one of the directors of the UK publisher, Tan Wah Piow, who is a Singaporean exiled by the ruling party PAP. Accusing the UK publisher of interfering with Singapore politics, the propaganda ministry said:
“It is a longstanding principle that foreign interests are not allowed to control or manipulate our local media platforms. Recent events globally have demonstrated the risks of foreign interference in political discourse. (TOC) has to submit documentary proof to the Info-communications Media Development Authority that it has complied with the order.”
The propaganda ministry also accused the news website of deliberately breaching local censorship laws banning foreign funding:
“Evidence submitted by (TOC) in its appeal showed that it was aware of the restrictions on foreign funding and had structured the transfer of S$5,000 in order to circumvent these, by making it look like bona fide commercial advertising. On this basis, the Minister upheld the decision.”
In Singapore, local news websites are not supposed to operate commercially like the government’s state media.