MDA asked TOC to return foreign money, so we asked (both of) them what happened

TOC is in the news again.

Martino Tan| March 04, 05:47 PM

The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC2), please return your money from a foreign entity in 30 days, starting from today.

That's what the Media Development Authority (MDA) told social enterprise (TOC2), who in a statement from the statutory board "remains the registered entity of The Online Citizen (TOC1)".

Before we continue any further, let us help you understand what is TOC1 and TOC2:

TOC1 is the socio-political website in the news this week, after they received a scolding from Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam about publishing inaccurate articles on the Benjamin Lim case. TOC1 is now a one-man show, run by its Chief Editor Terry Xu.

TOC2 is the social enterprise managed by former TOC1 opinions editor Howard Lee.

Okay. Let's continue with the story...

In Sep 2014, the MDA informed TOC2 to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification of the Broadcasting Act.

This means that TOC2 has to declare to MDA that it will not receive any foreign funding for TOC1's operations.

Who is the foreign funder, and where is it from?

It is from the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it is not MI6.

It is a non-commercial entity incorporated in the United Kingdom, called the Monsoons Book Club.

Monsoon_book_club Source

So who owns it? Any famous British people we know? James Bond perhaps?

Monsoon_book_club_2 Source

Not really.

Among its directors is Tan Wah Piow, a former student union leader who was accused of being involved in the 1987 "Marxist Conspiracy", while in political exile in London after travelling there in 1976.

Now a British citizen, he continues to live there, and has previously contributed articles to TOC.

So what actually happened? We asked TOC1 and TOC2 for answers.

Xu told us that TOC 1 "was not the recipient of the money", and that it was handed over to TOC2 for the purpose of organising an essay competition for the Monsoon Book Club.

Lee, who is a director of TOC2, told us that the "directors will meet up soon to deliberate" whether they will return the funds to the Monsoon Book Club.

Lee also shared with that MDA contacted him at 9pm on Thursday to request for a meet-up. Unfortunately, Lee was busy and did not meet them. He asked them to email him instead, resulting in the MDA sending him a letter to return the funds at 3pm on Friday.... alongside press releases informing the media of the same.

Why is this announcement significant? 

This is the first time a registered website has been asked to return advertising revenue, according to the MDA.

But didn't TOC1 and TOC2 split up?

Indeed, they had “consciously uncoupled" in December 2015.

In fact, Lee told back then that the folks from TOC1 and TOC 2 “have also met up with them (MDA) to provide a better understanding of the decoupling”.

Lee even speculated that they “(did) not foresee that (they would) still be registered under the Broadcasting Act", since they were "no longer in ownership of any news website".

So why is MDA still making TOC2 return money? Aren't they no longer under the Broadcasting Act?

This is explained by the fact that Monsoons Book Club gave them the money before the divorce — April 10, 2015.


Now that we are clear, here is the full media statement from MDA:

"The Media Development Authority of Singapore (“MDA”) today directed The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (“TOC Ltd”) to return $5,000 in advertising revenue to a non-commercial foreign advertiser.

TOC Ltd is registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification as an Internet Content Provider engaged in the propagation, promotion, or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore. As part of the registration, TOC Ltd has undertaken not to receive funding from foreign sources for the provision, management and/or operation of the website, The Online Citizen (, except for bona fide commercial purposes. This is to ensure that foreign entities do not engage in domestic politics and to uphold the principle that domestic politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone.

TOC Ltd’s requisite updates of its funding sources for the period of January to April 2015 show that an overseas entity, the Monsoons Book Club Limited (“MBC Ltd”), had provided TOC Ltd with $5,000 on 10 Apr 2015 to advertise on The Online Citizen website.

MBC Ltd is a non-commercial foreign entity incorporated in the United Kingdom. TOC Ltd’s receipt of the advertising revenue from MBC Ltd is thus a clear breach of the licence conditions.

MDA has therefore asked TOC Ltd to return this tranche of advertising revenue to MBC Ltd within 30 days.


Related articles:

There are now officially 2 TOCs in S’pore as they are no longer interwined

The Online Citizen blog gets regulated twice by two authorities in 4 years

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