Former owner of The Online Citizen hands back SG$5k in ad revenue to client

The Opinion Collaborative, former owner of news site The Online Citizen, has revealed that it would be upholding IMDA’s demands to give back SG$5,000 in ad revenue to Monsoons Book Club, a non-profit organisation based in the UK.

The order came after IMDA first called out the organisation for receiving foreign funding in 2016. According to CNA, the issue rose because The Opinion Collaborative was registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification as an internet content provider which covers political issues relating to Singapore. As such, it cannot receive funding from foreign sources for the provision, management and/or operation of the website, except for “bona fide commercial purposes”.

According to the latest press statement issued, The Opinion Collaborative voiced its disagreement with the justification provided by the Minister in upholding IMDA’s demand. It asserted that the Ministry of Communications Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had “failed to consider the evidence” provided by the company to justify the funding it had received from MBC.

The statement also claimed that there were errors found in item 14 of the minister’s decision, where the minister had implied Monsoons Book Club was more concerned about “how The Online Citizen was to conduct its own activities” rather than it was about “advert concern”, appearing to suggest that there was “some form of plot by the company to deceive IMDA”, the statement read.

“These claims are erroneous on four counts, and making such claims only serve to demonstrate the Minister’s poor understanding of commercial advertising conditions and the Collaborative’s undertaking with IMDA, not to mention completely irrelevant to the matter under consideration,” the statement added.

The Opinion Collaborative went on by elaborating on the four counts, clarifying that Monsoons Book Club had left matters of the advertising to The Opinion Collaborative because Monsoons Book Club does not operate as a media entity versed with the creation of advertising content and sponsorship packages.

Secondly, the statement added that “at no time was Monsoon Book Club concerned about how The Online Citizen ‘conduct its own activities’”. The statement also argued the The Opinion Collaborative’s rights to decide on how it uses its ad spend and diversifying its funding sources.

Read the full statement here:

The statement also called out IMDA and MCI’s handling of the exchange and added that MBC will also be donating a separate amount of SG$6,000 to its organisation to support its cause as a social enterprise.

In a statement to Marketing, an MCI spokesperson said that it notes that The Opinion Collaborative has complied with IMDA’s direction and returned the sum it received from MBC. As such, The Opinion Collaborative would need to submit documentary proof of this to IMDA.

The statement explained that as a condition of its licence, The Opinion Collaborative undertook not to receive funding from non-commercial foreign sources. However, the evidence the organisation submitted in its appeal showed that it was aware of the restrictions on foreign funding, and both The Opinion Collaborative and MBC had structured the transfer of $5,000 in order to circumvent these, “by making it look like bona fide commercial advertising”. On this basis, the minister upheld IMDA’s decision.

“The Opinion Collaborative’s assertions are unfounded. 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,” the spokesperson said.

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