A Singapore news website that was often critical of the authorities had its license suspended on Tuesday for failing to disclose the source of its funding, regulators said, calling the move “unacceptable censorship” by a rights group.
Critics have repeatedly accused the controlled city-state of undermining media freedom, and The Online Citizen (TOC) has long been a crosshair of the government.
One of the few alternative news sources in Singapore, it often runs a more critical story of the authorities than the pro-government mainstream media.
The city-state media regulator said it had suspended the license to operate the company’s website and social media channel because it did not fully meet the obligation to declare funds.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority said in a statement that sites like TOC “need to be transparent about the source of their funding”.
“To prevent such sites from being controlled by foreign actors or coming under the influence of foreign entities or funds.”
TOC was instructed to deactivate its website and social media account by Thursday. If it fails to provide adequate information, its operating license could be revoked altogether, the regulator warned.
But editor-in-chief Terry Xu told AFP that the site had “never received foreign funding, nor will it in the future” and that the company was considering its options.
Earlier this month, Xu and a TOC writer were ordered to pay substantial compensation after losing a defamation suit against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the license suspension was “offensive and unacceptable censorship, in the guise of government regulatory action.”
“The reality is that the Singapore government is trying to hook or chicken TOC off, because they just don’t like their freedom or their critical reporting.”
In the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Singapore ranks 180th out of 180 countries and territories, with the number one country having media freedom.