Here’s the short background: The Opinion Collaborative used to publish the online news site TOC, before they split up. During that time, the organisation received $5,000 from Monsoons Book Club in the UK to run a competition – the amount was recorded as advertising revenue.
Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) asked that the money be returned to Monsoons Book Club because it considered it to be funding from foreign sources (except for bona fide commercial purposes) that would be prejudicial to the site’s presentation of local issues. Monsoon Book Club names Mr Tan Wah Piow, a former ISA detainee, as one of its directors.
I’m not arguing about the legitimacy of the transaction – this point has already been contested by The Opinion Collaborative in its press statement. The thing that really gets to me is how easy it is for ACTUAL nefarious agendas, terrorists, and foreign influencers to get funds to publications in the Singapore socio-political space.
To prove the point, The Opinion Collaborative has returned the $5,000 to Monsoons Book Club, which then gave $6,000 to The Opinion Collaborative, which is now all legit because The Opinion Collaborative has been de-linked from the website TOC. It’s a big “F U” to IMDA.
And, had this organisation been one with intentions to influence local politics, it would have been just as easy to hand that $6,000 on to any other news site, run an ad or promo, and fund some other agenda. IMDA’s regulations are powerless to actually stop the flow of money by determined actors. I’ve asked before: what’s the point of the local/foreign definition anyway?
In the end, this leaky IMDA rule only serves to burden upright publications with paperwork, while those who want to disguise payments can easily do so (and they are encouraged to hide their money trails). This is a worse situation all around.
Meanwhile, the G’s war on fake news doesn’t seem interested in addressing this regulatory weakness at all.