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TOC’s inadequate response to PMO and MDA

with 22 comments

Those following The Online Citizen saga are aware that as of yesterday, TOC finally issued a formal press release (which I personally felt was unnecessarily lengthy) and an official reply to its readers regarding both the Prime Minister’s Office indication to gazette it as a political association under the Political Donations Act (PDA) as well as MDA’s notification to register both in 14 days.

I personally believe TOC should not have to be gazetted under the PDA and registered under some MDA license act. Indeed, why should any website have to do so and subject themselves to possible restrictions and greater regulation by a partisan government body? But at the same time that does not mean that there is no legal basis for gazetting. Let’s take a look at their official replies found here.

Disclaimer: I am no law student and may have erroneously mis-interpreted the statutes. Kindly point out any mistakes I have made in the comments below, thank you.

The first letter to the PMO generally states that TOC does not consider itself political enough to be considered a Political Association as defined in the Act. They have in their words, have been only as political as “all Singaporeans” consider themselves political by being merely interested and conversing on such topics:

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.

But this argument when considered in light of the definition of “political association” as defined in the PDA does not appear to be particularly persuasive:

“political association” means —

(a) a political party or an organisation which has as one of its objects or activities the promotion or procuring of the election to Parliament or to the office of President of a candidate or candidates endorsed by the organisation; or

(b) an organisation (not being a branch of any organisation) whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore and which is declared by the Minister, by order in the Gazette, to be a political association for the purposes of this Act;

 

In particular, (b) states that it only suffices that its activities must be mainly about politics in Singapore. Anyone who has been reading TOC the past 4 years since its inception knows that just about every mainstream media publication considers it a socio-political blog. Who can deny that the Face to Face forum organised by TOC as well as its various campaigns such as calls to suspend the mandatory capital punishment are political in nature? And of course the second part of (b) says that it’s up to the Minister’s discretion to decide if it should be gazetted. Now the big problem for TOC it’s that it’s going to be very hard to argue that it has not been overtly political. TOC has run overtly socio-political campaigns (though not those explicitly endorsing or critical of candidates or public servants) on social issues such as the mandatory death penalty (including an explicit call to suspend all capital punishment), extended coverage of the Yong Vui Kong case, focus on exploited migrant workers, special needs people etc. it’s hard to argue that these aren’t socio-political concerns.

Of course some might argue that these are social issues rather than political ones, but if a purely human-rights-focused group such as Maruah which doesn’t cover electoral issues could be gazetted and treated as a political association, why shouldn’t TOC which had just organised a successful meeting of all the major political parties in Singapore through its Face 2 Face forum last month?

Indeed some of the editorials and articles written by TOC makes clear that they take a strong stand on these issues instead of merely reporting on them as a passive political observer. Let’s quote a few:

On the mandatory death penalty campaign:

The Online Citizen calls on the Singapore Government to impose a moratorium on all executions for those sentenced under the Mandatory Death Penalty (MDP). Our Special Focus Week the next 7 days or so urges the Singapore Government to consider the concerns and issues raised with regards to, in particular, the Misuse of Drugs Act and its provisions. TOC believes that there are serious and valid concerns about the application and provisions of the MDP which mandate a moratorium on executions. We urge the Prime Minister and his Government to consider these concerns and to allow an open and robust discourse with members of the public, the legal fraternity and Members of Parliament so that a true national consensus on judicial executions, based on informed considerations, is arrived at. We begin our appeal to the Government with our editorial position on the matter.

On Yong Vui Kong:

Despite the drizzle, both young and old were there to add their signatures to the call for clemency. The event was organized by the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty campaigners (SADPC) and The Online Citizen (TOC).

TOC’s chief editor, Andrew Loh, spoke on what the event was about. “Today is not about Vui Kong’s guilt. Today is not about whether the death penalty is right or needed,” he told the crowd in his speech. “Today is about mercy.” He urged for Vui Kong to be shown clemency despite what he had done – trafficking in 47.27g of heroin into Singapore in 2007.

“Vui Kong was just 19 when he committed the offence. His first offence,” Andrew said. He feels that at that age, such a person – who is also illiterate and comes from a poor family – would make mistakes, just like any other person of that age.

He argued that a justice system must also allow for mercy. “We are not here to talk about the legal process or Yong’s guilt. That has already been decided by the courts,” he said. “Do we have room for repentence, for conversion? Should our justice system not allow for these?”

“Hanging drug mules is not going to solve the problem. The drug barons and the drug lords – who live in their castles with their millions – will just find the next gullible, naïve and ignorant young person to do their dirty deeds. And we will hang the next young boy, and the next one, and the next one – while those who’re truly responsible get away.”

Andrew also asked the mainstream media in Singapore to report the story of Vui Kong so as to enable greater public debate on the issue. “Our media reports are so mechanical. Drug trafficker. Found guilty. Sentenced to death. Full stop.”

There’s another article by Andrew Loh which states more explicitly his beliefs that the mandatory death penalty should be abolished. That article however, comes with a disclaimer that the views expressed are that of Andrew’s and not necessarily TOC’s. But the government is unlikely to acknowledge the difference.

Apart from these who can forget that less than a year ago, TOC ran two stories dedicated to rebutting MCYS Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s claim on how Al Jazeera TV distorted a homeless couple’s situation to paint MCYS in a bad light. To do this, TOC dispatched on-scene reporters to the homeless couple (I have no idea how they managed to locate them) to interview them.  In addition they also fired off multiple emails to various government organisations to clarify certain points.

Now let’s be clear on this. What TOC did isn’t wrong and I personally support their pro-active coverage especially to clear up the distorted one-sided picture painted by the mainstream media through Minister Balakrishnan’s statements. It’s just that doing so undermines the notion that they are mere passive political commentators, which might have made them less likely to be gazetted as a political association.

Apart from this, TOC also interviewed various groups of Singaporeans to find out what they think of the mandatory death penalty. The series of videos may be viewed here. Also, as part of the year in review for 2010, TOC ran an article by one of its volunteers Kirsten Han:

While the judges reserved their judgement, we at TOC threw ourselves fully into our campaign for a moratorium on the Mandatory Death Penalty. We shot more vox pops, and edited together our TOC campaign video

The Minster of Community Development, Youth and Sports had stood up in Parliament and accused Al-Jazeera for not checking its facts in the homeless story that had been done in Singapore. He had also gone on to say that “some irresponsible websites have also caused these falsehoods to circulate widely on the Internet”.

Even before 2010 TOC had been writing reports about various homeless people and families in Singapore, people living in tents at Sembawang Park, Changi Beach, East Coast Park or West Coast Park. TOC had also run a focus week on the homeless issue, and so we assumed that Dr Balakrishnan was referring to us.

Many of us were utterly shocked by the Minister’s comments. We had been working on homeless stories in the hopes that more help would be extended towards these people once their plight had been highlighted. We had never expected that the response from the government would be such accusations and humiliation.

We thus kicked into overdrive, going to speak to the homeless couple – who were understandably distraught – in the Al-Jazeera story so as to be able to prepare our replies to the Minister’s comments. We responded in two parts: Part OnePart Two.

An event at Speakers’ Corner called The Elected President is NOT a Rubber Stamp was quickly organised, and a letter-writing campaign to President S R Nathan launched.

I was put in charge of collecting and posting the letters. In that weekend I posted approximately 50 letters to the Istana requesting that the President convene a Constitutional Tribunal to ascertain his powers in the matter. Many letter-writers also requested that the Istana give them some reply within 7 days.

With all of the above  in mind, how can anyone believe TOC’s defence that they are merely a place for interested parties to converse on political and social issues in Singapore? TOC has explicitly taken sides and has pro-actively reached out to Singaporeans on such matters, and were not mere passive observers. Again this is not to say that I disagree that they should have done as they did. I firmly believe there is nothing wrong and such a civic spirit should be encourage but again this does nothing except undermine their defence in the reply to PMO.

The above only covers what they did in 2010. Glancing through their articles for 2009, what I noticed what the lack of campaigns and events they held as compared to 2010. Back then TOC seemed more like a more passive observer and political commentator rather than the activist website they had transformed into in 2010. I surmise that if one goes back even further to 2008 or 2007, one would find greater passivity on their part. So in light of these it seems hard to escape the conclusion that TOC in a way courted and invited the gazetting by behaving more like an activist. If they had been more passive and stuck to their original script for 2007-2009, it appears less likely that they would have been gazetted.

But then again, I stress that personally it’s not me who objects to their activism. I believe that activism should never be viewed as a negative thing. But of course I do not hail from the Prime Minister’s Office and they do not share my view.

TOC’s response to MDA

TOC’s response to MDA is by comparison extremely short and bewildering. Here it is in full:

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.

Firstly it looks as though TOC is confusing the two letters and requests from PMO and MDA. Despite the fact both came within short interval of each other, they should not be taken to be the same. TOC’s reply, as I had indicated in a comment on their article which was not approved (despite the fact that there were plenty of other comments which were posted and approved later), assumes that the latter’s notification to register for a license was somehow conditional or dependent on the PMO’s intent to gazette TOC as a political association:

I am tempted to say that TOC shouldn’t be censoring comments which are critical but not abusive, but I guess protesting it won’t do any good. But back to the point, if one considers the history of other websites which have been notified by MDA to register for a license, in general they have not been gazetted as political associations as well. Take Sintercom for example, the last website to be served notice by the authorities to register for a license. Unlike TOC, they were not similarly gazetted as a political association. TOC’s reply which tries to tie in the PMO’s gazetting together with MDA’s license registration notification serves only to weaken their argument.

Reading through the relevant statute, it appears that what MDA did is not entirely unjustified:

3. An Internet Content Provider who is or is determined by the Authority to be –

a. a political party registered in Singapore providing any programme on World Wide Web through the Internet; or

b. a body of persons engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore on World Wide Web through the Internet,

shall register with the Authority within 14 days of 15th July 1996 or, in the case of an Internet Content Provider who provides the service after 15th July 1996, within 14 days after the commencement of its service, or within such longer time as the Authority may permit.

4. If required by the Authority to do so by notice in writing

a. an Internet Content Provider who is, or is determined by the Authority to be, in the business of providing through the Internet an on-line newspaper for a subscription fee or other consideration; and

b. an Internet Content Provider who is, or is determined by the Authority to be, an individual providing any programme, for the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore, on the World Wide Web through the Internet,

shall register with the Authority within the time stipulated by the Authority in the notice.

If anything the problem with the Broadcasting Act (and relevant guidelines and statutes) is that it’s left intentionally ambiguous. As Alex Au pointed out back in 2007,  it gives the media regulatory authority too much power and freedom to arbitrarily determine how a blog or website should be classified as something which should be compelled to register for a license, whereupon just about any of its articles may be deemed to be against “public interest” and have to be removed or be fined.

At the end of the day, I would argue that what should really be changed is not the PM’s request to gazette TOC as a political association, but rather the need for gazetting at all. Unfortunately because this is written into law, together with MDA’s Broadcasting Act, one may have to change the laws themselves in order to do so. And of course, unjust laws only exist because Parliament gets to pass them. That tells you how serious Singaporeans should take the upcoming elections to be.

Update 16th Jan: TOC has finally approved my comment (dated 14th Jan) on their article, long after various other supportive comments posted up till 16th Jan were approved.

Update 19th Jan: Please see this comment before commenting on this post. Also see this for another example of TOC’s egregious comment moderation. The PMO has also replied to TOC here, and has largely re-iterated the points above that TOC is “not a passive website” and has “organized online and offline campaigns to change legislation and Government policies, a forum for local politicians, and polls on public support for local politicians and on other political issues concerning Singapore”.

Written by defennder

January 15, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Posted in Singapore affairs

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22 Responses

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  1. I’m afraid you have missed the point completely. It is the justification of this gazetting by the PMO that is inadequate.

    This decision is completely arbitrary, done with no independent oversight and can be seen as a very transparent attempt by the PAP to extend their media control into the online sphere. The reason being that they know media control is required to maintain their grip on political power in Singapore. As I have blogged, the reasoning given by the PMO for gazetting TOC applies just as well to the Straits Times, an organisation which ironically actually does receive substantial funding from overseas sources, whereas TOC does not.

    Singapore ranks extremely low (136) on international measures for freedom of the press, below Cambodia (128), Indonesia (117), South Korea (42), Hong Kong (34), Japan (11) and Switzerland (1). You can expect it to fall a good few more places after this. Not something you should be proud of or try to find a legalese justification for.

    Singapore Spin

    January 16, 2011 at 1:03 AM

  2. Singapore Spin
    Hi I’d like to say that the point of this article is not to defend the decision by PMO to gazette TOC as a political association. I’m only trying to explain why the authorities might have singled TOC out among the other blogs. I do not dispute that the media in Singapore is tightly controlled by the government and as you’ve pointed out that’s precisely why there is no need to gazette SPH and Mediacorp.

    TOC’s increasingly activist stance the past year has only given the PMO a good reason to stifle it by gazetting. It becomes increasingly more difficult to argue they haven’t been overtly political as the year went by. And that happens to satisfy the definition of political association together with the judgement of the Minister at his discretion. That’s all I’m tried to say in the post.

    defennder

    January 16, 2011 at 1:58 AM

  3. Harping on a technical point before conceding that the issue of gazetting is merely an instrument of power? It’s quite a tedious effort on a tangential point.

    besiege

    January 16, 2011 at 12:11 PM

  4. besiege
    A technical point? Where have I been reluctant to concede that gazetting is a political instrument? I did so in an earlier comment on another post.

    At the end of the day, if the matter ever goes to court, TOC would have very little ground on to fight given the wording of the relevant statute. You seem to be confusing two separate issues here; firstly that the Political Donations Act is a political instrument to keep the ruling party in a politically dominant position, secondly that going by the PDA it’s unreasonable for TOC to be gazetted as a political association. Some people, perhaps yourself seem to think the both are true and this post meant to show why they are mistaken and the former is true while the latter is not.

    As for whether it’s a “tangential point”, please note that if this matter ever makes its way to court, the past activities and archives of the TOC as elaborated on in this post will most assuredly be the focus of the hearings and not something barely related.

    EDIT: Edited language for clarification.

    defennder

    January 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM

  5. [TOC’s increasingly activist stance the past year has only given the PMO a good reason to stifle it by gazetting. It becomes increasingly more difficult to argue they haven’t been overtly political as the year went by. And that happens to satisfy the definition of political association together with the judgement of the Minister at his discretion. That’s all I’m tried to say in the post.]

    defennder

    *************************************************

    The whole problem with such manipulation of laws in S’pore is the result of LKY’s plan which he hatched right from the beginning: to grab power and wealth and perpetuate his control and devolve to his next generation and further to the next. The final result which he hopes is that his decendants would dominate S’pore much like the monarchy.

    By now, it can be seen quite clearly if one would give some thoughts to all that has been done to the original laws. Various aspects of the laws have been meticulously revised, discarded, and new laws introduced to protect his position of power so much so that it is virtually impossible for any other political party or individual to stand a fair chance in a competition with him. This has now passed on to his son.

    In the event that all these ‘tinkering’ of the laws failed, he would, without hesitation, make further changes or even introduce more new laws to be effective retrospectively.

    S’poreans have witnessed all these.

    To think of the basic mental characteristic of LKY, it is very much like that of a spoilt child. He always wants and has his way – no matter it is good or bad for others around him.

    In other words, absolutely self-centered. Just look at what he has done for himself and his cronies as compared to what he has done for the working class.

    His original promise of creating a just and equal society has craftily thrown out the window along the way without the majority notice it.

    It is futile to delve into any aspect of the laws which TOC presently attempts to do.

    The only remedy is to completely reform those laws.
    To reform the laws, S’pore is seriously in need of a new govt. Without this new govt which MUST NOT be from the PAP, only then, can S’poreans expect to live in a fair and equable society where true justice is practised.

    When that day comes, there will be no squabble about the law for TOC. Probably, TOC and/or TR may well be the main media in Singapore.

    Natives Supporter

    January 16, 2011 at 3:02 PM

  6. From the statement, you can reasonably infer that the matter will not end up in court. TOC knows that. Tangential point.

    tangential

    January 16, 2011 at 7:10 PM

  7. besiege/tangential
    Please do not change your moniker to give the misleading impression that there are multiple commenters on this thread. Kindly pick a nick and stick with it. I’m perfectly all right with pseudonyms but to discuss topics in good faith we should be consistent with our identities.

    Secondly the obvious reason why TOC isn’t taking the matter to court is because they have no legal grounds to do so. The entire post was written to show that if they choose to do so they would have no case. I trust you understand the point I was making? Are you willing to argue that their activities do not count as that of a political association as defined in the PDA or that MDA has no legal right to force them to register for a license based on the Broadcasting Act? Or are you here as a troll?

    defennder

    January 16, 2011 at 7:48 PM

  8. It’s obvious that the authorities have singled out TOC because they are a very successful news blog that challenges SPH’s monopoly on mainstream media to which the general population are exposed to. Other SPH publications do not need to be gazetted because they are controlled by the PAP through the use of management shares with preferential voting rights. The editor of Straits Times could be sacked very quickly if he wrote very critically of the ruling party. It’s because PAP do not have this control over independent / alternative media sources that they seek to control them via other means (gazetting being the obvious one).

    We are all aware that the wording of the statute can be applied to TOC. That is because PAP have worded the statute sufficiently vaguely such that it can be applied to any organisation that challenges their political power. Since there is no meaningful opposition in parliament the PAP can do this and give their PM the power to arbitrarily restrict any group that seeks to further the cause of political opposition in Singapore. The result being that opposition parties can not get their message out via mainstream or alternative media and when the general population vote they know of no alternative to the PAP. This vicious circle is what keeps the PAP in power.

    Let me put it another way. Can you guess whether this move will improve or damage Singapore’s ranking in terms of freedom of speech or freedom of press? I suggest it will damage it. And do you think that is something good or something bad? I think it’s something bad. The conclusion is that the PAP are damaging Singapore’s standing in the world to further their own desire to remain in power, presumably so that they can continue to collect million dollar pay checks amongst other reasons.

    Singapore Spin

    January 16, 2011 at 9:21 PM

  9. […] the MDA – Sgpolitics.net: TOC strengthens its resolve in the face of gazetting – Furry Brown Dog: TOC’s inadequate response to PMO and MDA – TOC: TOC Gazetted: It’s not about politics, but media – Mr Wang Says So: My Thoughts on The […]

  10. If you think what you wrote about TOC is bad, I dare you to read this,

    http://dotseng.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/the-gazetting-of-toc-the-confessions-of-a-liaison-officer/

    I happen to agree with the author. I once spent nearly 45 min writing a commentary entry and guess what happened to it?

    You are so insightful.

    Flowerentino

    January 17, 2011 at 1:08 PM

  11. Singapore Spin
    Thank you for your comment, and certainly thank you for being consistent with your moniker. I prefer if commenters stick to a moniker so I know how to respond to them better. I agree with much of what you write, with one important exception.

    While I have said repeatedly that I believe both the PDA and Broadcasting Act have been politicised to give the ruling party a political edge in its outreach to the people, it’s important to also acknowledge that one cannot blame these Acts entirely for the situation TOC finds itself in.

    Designating TOC as political association may seem arbitrary, but if you read through my post I have made pains to underline the activism TOC has engaged in the past year. That’s the key word, it’s TOC’s activism which led to their gazetting. Gazetting is not completely arbitrary even though the statute is ambiguous. Sintercom wasn’t gazetted even though it was hit by SBA’s notification to register for license. New Asia Republic, Kent Ridge Common, New Nation are all collaborative blogs which are political in nature. Why haven’t these blogs been gazetted as well?

    How many of these other blogs have engaged in letter writing campaigns, organising campaign events at Speaker’s Corners against the impending execution of Yong Vui Kong, urged the government to suspend all executions etc., organised a meeting of all the major political parties in Singapore?

    That should tell you one thing. It’s activism which got TOC into trouble, not the mere fact that the government decided to arbitrarily gazette a popular political blog. There are other blogs which have not been gazetted as well as much less popular ones which have been. Another example: Maruah which has a much lesser outreach compared to TOC was also gazetted last November. Why? Not because they are seen as a threat but because they are human rights activists.

    This again doesn’t mean activism is wrong. It’s not wrong to me, as I have pointed out in four separate occasions in my post above. It’s wrong to the government, which ultimately makes the decision to gazette.

    I personally believe that if TOC had stuck to their 2006-2009 script (as I have said in my post) they would not have been gazetted. Yes I would like anyone reading this to take note that this is the single most important point I have made in the post above, it’s not some “tangential” consideration which can be entirely discounted and that legal authority coupled with arbitrary judgement may fully explain the gazetting.

    I rest my case. If anyone is thinking of commenting on this post please take note of this particular comment. Thank you. I’m tired of addressing straw man arguments.

    defennder

    January 17, 2011 at 1:09 PM

  12. You know what is “unnecessarily lengthy”? This blog post.

    Jerry Teo

    January 18, 2011 at 10:01 AM

  13. Hi Defender:

    A fantastic read. Your article encapsulates many of the points I had tried to bring across to TOC more than a year ago and recently, over at their Facebook page when it challenged me, by posting an exerpt of my comments,to engage its FB fans.

    Unlike you, I was too lazy to go through their articles to show them where and when they had deviated from their original purpose.

    It was precisely because of its new ‘activist’ actions that had compelled me to stay away from TOC during this time limiting myself to a peek or two every once in a long while, and not commenting on any of its articles.

    I have also read Singaporedaddy’s report over at Dotseng a few days ago and although it pretty much gave the same summary as yours (and mine), I cannot help but still feel that all of us as Netizens must close ranks and stick together to fight this one common enemy we all know as the PAP.

    We cannot deny the fact that whatever TOC has done and whatever stand it had adopted or will adopt, it is the meddling of the PAP government, its poking of its nose into online activity that is of the greater concern for all of us.

    Let us all put our energy and resources together to see how best we can help TOC out of this.

    gemami

    January 19, 2011 at 8:05 AM

  14. I just wanted to point out that Defender’s comment wasn’t necessarily censored. I realised that if you have ‘TOC’ inside your post, the SYSTEM automatically picks it up, and waits for a moderator to approve the comment.

    lobo76

    January 19, 2011 at 10:03 AM

  15. Agree with you Lobo76 to a certain extent. You and I have been with TOC long enough to know that what you have just shared is not totally true. I can show you some of my posts which are still under moderation – after more than a year.

    Recently, it exported one of my comments over to its FB page for discussion there. Any fool will know that FB discussion threads die as quickly as they appear.

    To go one step further, the current acting-editor, Joshua is worse than Andrew when it comes to moderation.

    gemami

    January 19, 2011 at 11:34 AM

  16. Flowerentino
    Hi thanks for the link. I had a look through it but I prefer to read pieces which tell it as it is, as opposed to those which tell a parable (unless it’s a short one) to explain their stand on the issue. It’s an idiosyncratic preference on my part to prefer reading expository writing even if they’re lengthy. But I see that others like gemami have read through the post and have concluded it said similar things to what I did above.

    As for moderation, yes I feel that TOC definitely has gone overboard with moderation. It’s acceptable to moderate out personal attacks, but when you refuse to approve lengthy comments so that a commenter may respond to his critics, it becomes unfair when people are denied the right of reply, especially when they’ve been insulted by comments which were mysteriously not moderated. That’s the problem with TOC these days. How could they claim to be a platform for Singaporeans to discuss political issues when they are hell-bent on moderating all criticism of TOC, even when reasonable?

    Jerry Teo
    Yes I admit it’s rather long. I would like to shorten it if I could, but it’s my preference to make each post self-contained instead of linking it to external sources which may disappear at any times at the authors’ whim. Hence the use of extensive quotes.

    Any objections or comments apart from that?

    gemami
    Thank you for commenting. I have read elsewhere that you were one of those early commenters on TOC who got turned off by their excessive moderating. Personally I dislike having my comments moderated to such a ridiculous extent. At the same time, TOC’s single-minded focus on liberal Western issues even to the extent of organising rallies at Speakers’ Corner will only serve to alienate socially conservative Singaporeans (I wager most Singaporeans don’t object to the mandatory death penalty). How many rallies have they organised against the liberal immigration policy the PAP government practices? How many rallies against rising HDB prices and the cost of living? That should tell you something about their priorities. It’s not in line with most Singaporeans.

    If this blog is accurate, TOC has been doing more than that. TOC has deleted all the articles by former contributor Farquhar (I don’t know why) and has practised moderation to a ridiculous extent by censoring people who criticise its gay rights coverage:
    http://wherebearsroamfree.blogspot.com/2009/05/evidence-that-toc-censors-and-moderates.html
    http://wherebearsroamfree.blogspot.com/2011/01/toc-hypocrite-pretends-to-represent.html

    lobo76
    Hi lobo76, I can’t tell if that’s true. Looking at some of TOC’s earlier posts you seem to be one of its early commentors as well. Let me show you a straight-forward example where my own criticism of TOC’s moderation policy was censored whereas another person who praised TOC’s response to PMO was not. This despite the fact the supportive comment had the word “TOC” in it. The post is found here. One of their moderators, Ganga, even replied to my comment while refusing to approve it. It is still under moderation. Later supportive comments from others were approved though:

    defennder

    January 19, 2011 at 1:51 PM

  17. Hi Defender,

    I can emphatize with Solobear.

    I commented elsewhere that I am a wee bit suspicious that TOC might have been infiltrated by agents working against its interest. It had some writers who gave their two-cents worth, driven by their personal convictions to affairs affecting the larger scene in Singapore. Unfortunately, there are some who are there to see to it that TOC’s popularity does not affect the political comfort of a certain group of elites. “Nip the problem in the bud” is a phrase we can attribute to someone we all know too well. Then, there are those who have no qualm in taking advantage of TOC’s very naïve group of ‘volunteers’ who run the show.

    The saddest part of all is TOC’s refusal to listen to the opinions of those who have made it so successful and from those who have its interest at heart. I have not mentioned this before, and I do not see myself repeating this over at TOC or anywhere else simply because I do not want to give readers the wrong impression of my participation there; but I do know one of TOC’s founders personally – even though he may or may not be aware of this. It is the only reason I am using the nick I am using. You do see the point that I only have the best interest for the site to be successful and continue to flourish as it did in its early days. I know what this person stands for and I know him to be a very sincere and committed person – one who cares deeply for his neighbours.

    Unfortunately, others do not see it the way I do. We have all sorts of people making use of TOC’s success to peddle their wares and fight their causes. Let’s see if these same people would now continue to stick around the TOC marketplace or flee, once it is gazetted.

    I have been away from TOC for more than a year and I am shocked to hear of what had happened to Faquhar. I have enjoyed almost every piece of his writings.

    Singaporedaddy was invited to write there once too and The Brotherhood’s gang of brothers were, IMHO, one of the early settlers who had helped TOC gain its reputation. It was normal to see threads having comments that easily ran into double digits within minutes of publish. These days, it takes days to reach those numbers.

    Alas! The liaison officer received no protection when the Jumping Lizards descended there with an agenda to shoo the Brothers into oblivion. I tried to defend the liaison officer’s position and that was the beginning of my comments going straight into TOC’s moderation bin. It culminated with the anti- pro-gay fight for which we all know which side TOC’s enlarged pool of ‘volunteers’ prefered to be on.

    I remember the LGBT topic got so way out of hand during the one week Andrew was abroad attending to something and the daily TOC affairs were left in the hands of one actively pro-gay Donaldson Tan. You will know how active he is when you visit some of the GLBT websites and read his postings.

    Nevertheless, with all these clear signs and figures, TOC (its founders especially) are still blind to all these. I am saddened and carry a very heavy heart with me. I am not sure what the gazette will do to online political discussions. Many will be cowed even as they try to put on a brave front. That will be the only outcome – an outcome which I believe the government is taking a calculated risk on.

    The ball is now on our half of the court. Yes, OURS, whether we like it or not. We are online members by association, and the online space is now under attack by a government which has no answers to our questionings.

    gemami

    January 20, 2011 at 1:55 PM

  18. Hi gemami,

    Sorry for the late reply. Have been getting busy with work lately.

    Thank you so much for that insightful comment. I have never known much about the history of TOC and how it came to be until you wrote this, having been on the blogging scene only in the past few years. There’s quite a bit of stuff I don’t comprehend regarding the Brotherhood and “liaison officer”, whatever that means. I haven’t really read that much into internal blogosphere politics to know what’s going on throughout the years. So I’m afraid to say that that portion of what you read is not understood by myself. Perhaps some day I might chance upon the opportunity to learn more about the mystical Brotherhood, the enigmatic Darkness and the like, which frankly sounds more like a online gaming clan than a coalition of bloggers.

    Sadly, though it may be true that the ball is in the court of TOC readers and the blogosphere at large, there is sadly nothing that can be done to circumvent the need for registration as a political association or under MDA. TOC knows this, and it is why they have indicated they will give in and register as a political association:
    http://theonlinecitizen.com/2011/01/tocs-reply-to-pmo/

    The only way I thought the public could help might be to start a petition opposing the gazetting, though TOC’s latest concession to the PMO will have already dampened the motivation to do that. Apart from that, well, perhaps TOC will have an easier time fundraising now they’ve got much more publicity than before.

    My only hope is that someday TOC will find it within their heart to listen to the advice of its readers, especially the older commenters like yourself who have a much better grasp of the situation than they even appear to have. I hope your words as written above will find greater meaning to them and not simply end up in the moderation queue like so many others. Perhaps if all these should come to be, one day in the future it might even be said that the gazetting/MDA notification was a blessing in disguise.

    Again I thank you sincerely for taking time out to chronicle briefly all that has happened at TOC since its inception.

    Regards,
    Defennder

    defennder

    January 25, 2011 at 12:59 AM

  19. Just so you know, TOC is now refusing to publish my replies to readers arguing over my comments which it had earlier posted as an article without so much as sounding me out. This is because its chief editor, Joshua Chiang, refuses or is unable to provide an answer to a question which I have asked the readers there.

    The question is whether a transgender person is deem normal for recreating what Mother Nature has given him by mutilating his body parts to recreate the person that he feels he is.

    Gemami

    February 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM

  20. Hi gemami,

    Please send me an email at defennder[at]gmail.com I have tried to contact you over the email address which you stated but was rebuffed by an error saying that the address does not exist.

    TOC has censored an earlier comment of mine posted yesterday as well as that of my friend who had commented separately. He sent me the screenshot to prove that.

    defennder

    February 22, 2011 at 7:57 PM

  21. I’m not surprised that your comments get censored. What’s new with TOC. I have a post replying to Lobo’s comment still under moderation, another post in reply to Joshua’s last comment that got deleted.

    Bear in mind that the debate was started by TOC’s chief editor himself who, IMHO, did not want his main article tainted by non-gay views, hence, transporting my comments into an article of its own. I’ve known Joshua to be an exceptionally crafty person. However, I’d like to think I can read him well enough like reading a book.

    Take a look at the comments filtering through after I get censored. His heading reminds commenters to thread carefully on the topic of religion but he is allowing religion- bashing over giving the author of the article the continued right of reply.

    I am now using my iPhone But will send you the screenshots when I get into my office later. I’ve provided my personal email address for you.

    Thanks for listening.

    Gemami

    February 23, 2011 at 6:35 AM

  22. Hi Defennder,

    I’ve sent the screenshots to your gmail account. See if you have reveived them. Sorry you couldn’t get through to the gemami e-mail. I forgot to add .SG to it.

    gemami

    February 23, 2011 at 10:13 AM


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