The Online Citizen…bloggers or scary political association?

I became aware of The Online Citizen via a local friend.  I find it to be a fascinating blend of articles talking about life in Singapore from a perspective I couldn’t possibly understand–the local one, and in a voice that wasn’t monitored by the government, as the Straits Times (our local paper) is.

I’ve been on the fence as to whether I should talk about recent events surrounding them or not.  After all, as an Ang Moh (foreigner) I can barely keep up to date on political issues in my own country, much less try to dive into the complex politics of Singapore.

However, the recent decision by the government to gazette them…to declare them a “Political Organization”…the first attempt by the government to declare a group of bloggers as such bears sharing I believe.

The Government has sent shock waves across Singapore by ordering The Online Citizen, one of the country’s most popular socio-political websites, to be gazetted as a political organization. This gazetting means that The Online Citizen (TOC) will not be able to use any of its new media platforms during the upcoming General Elections to voice its support for any political party or personalities, according to the TOC website.

If successful, The Online Citizen will be the first blog not only in Singapore but perhaps in the world to be classified as a ‘political organization’. The reaction towards this political gazetting of one of Singapore’s most successful socio-political blogs has been largely critical, with many also believing that it is the first step before several other socio-political blogs are classified too as ‘political organizations’. What then, many may fear, is a complete blackout of alternative news sources and forums during the period of the General Elections.

Mr. Brown, a popular blogger, also discussed this even in his regular column on CNN.com in his usual satirical, cheeky style…

Frankly, I think the government should extend their gazetting to other entities. Taxi drivers, for instance, provide coverage and analysis of political issues, and have the potential to influence the opinions of their passengers and shape political outcomes in Singapore.

So taxi drivers should all be gazetted as political associations.

This may complicate their ability to be paid by foreigners taking their cabs but trust me, it is for the Greater Good of Singapore. We can’t have people giving their opinions about politics here willy-nilly and influencing political outcomes.

Taxi drivers who pick up passengers in future will need to ask for proof of identity. If the passenger is not a local, the taxi driver needs to reject the passenger’s money. One way around it would be for the foreign passenger to give the money to a citizen, who can then pay the taxi driver directly.

Another way is for the foreign passenger to become a citizen. This will then give the passenger the right to fund the taxi driver.

However, given the current political climate and the fact that the elections are coming, I recommend that foreign passengers apply for their citizenship or permanent residence after the elections. They will stand a better chance then.

I wish to add that becoming a political association will in no way restrict taxi drivers from their current practice of disappearing from the streets just before the midnight surcharge kicks in.

Today, TOC finally responded to the news

TOC is  confident in our ability to continue operating within the framework of the Political Donations Act and stand ready to take up the challenge of being the first website in Singapore to operate as a political association. Moving forward, the TOC editorial team will comprise up to four members. These individuals are willing to come forward and be named as the team behind TOC, and to bear the responsibilities and legal liability that comes with being gazetted as a political association.

As we demand openness and transparency from our government, we have similarly been careful to remain completely above board in our operations. We have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from gazetting. We believe that shutting down or going underground is precisely what those who misunderstand us want and will be fodder to discredit the blogosphere.  We will not give them that satisfaction.

If registering is what it’ll take to continue our contribution to Singapore, we’ll do it and send a clear message that we will not be intimidated into exiting the arena of public discourse.

We also believe that the public deserves a response from the Prime Minister, and to hear his explanation as to how a group of bloggers can constitute a political association. We believe that the decision to gazette was unreasonable, arbitrary and incorrect, and was borne of political paranoia. We have therefore written to the Prime Minister requesting him to reverse his decision, failing which we expect him to justify his position.

We are not sure what his response will be. While we  remind the Prime Minister of his promise for a more open Singapore, we will not hold our breath.

As an outsider, I am banned from being “political”…which means everything from joining a gay rights organization to participating in the political process of Singapore.  So rather than comment…I will just post these links and let you draw your own conclusions.

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3 Responses to The Online Citizen…bloggers or scary political association?

  1. In my way of seeing things, and I suspect I am probably in the minority on this, this development might not be a bad thing.
    We don’t know what being gazetted means in real terms. Yes it creates restrictions, but how those restrictions play out, nobody knows.
    I have always had mixed (mostly negative) feelings about anonymous commentary, and if this creates a working example of non-anonymous commentary without consequences, then this might be good.
    I say that of course as someone who blogs under a pseudonym, albeit one that is firmly connected to a part of my career.

    • Crystal says:

      I see what you’re saying, but TOC articles are authored by named individuals rather than anonymous entities.

    • kirsten says:

      Most TOC contributors are identified in their articles, so TOC has never really been a collection of anonymous bloggers. It’s one of the things that sets TOC apart from other sites (like *ahem* Temasek Review *ahem*).

      As it currently stands TOC should be able to carry on as it always has after registering. However, we will need to be wary of any new regulations that might be coming out just before the elections, that might suddenly tighten the rules regarding political associations.

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