The Independent Singapore website optimistic even after 2 local sites passed away quietly

Buoyed by a recent spike in readership, they are hopeful they won't turn turtle.

Ng Yi Shu | May 28, 2016, 04:27 PM

The Independent Singapore (TISG) -- on an upward swing since its soft re-launch in November 2015 -- has announced that it would partner The Opinion Collaborative (TOCL) in a press conference on May 27, 2016, in the wake of announcements that socio-political sites Six-Six News and Inconvenient Questions are shutting down.

TISG will partner TOCL as separate entities, unlike TOCL’s previous partnership with The Online Citizen (TOC), which saw TOC come under the financial oversight and fund-raising efforts of TOCL.

TOCL broke off with TOC on Sept. 30 last year.

A partnership that is on a six-month review

The partnership with TISG, which would be reviewed in six months, is a move to diversify TISG’s events organisation arm through TOCL, which specialises in organising forums featuring civil society activists and politicians. It will also see Ravi Philemon and Howard Lee join TISG as a lead editor and opinions editor respectively.

“There’s a great deal of synergy in what we want to achieve,” said Lee, who is also director at TOCL.

TOCL had been looking for a media partner since the split, Lee said, as it did not have a strong online presence. The partnership will both provide for an online presence for TOCL’s events, and allow TOCL to offer through-train packages involving print, online and events to potential clients.

TOCL is still open to collaborating with TOC, but has not received any proposals.

TISG wants to move away from being "the balance"

Lee said that TISG -- like any other online medium -- wants to move beyond the era of being "the balance".

“(Online publishers) want to see that both mainstream media as well as online media can approach things fairly without taking a particular position,” he said. “Until the point where we can say that all mainstream media and all online media are able to do this equally well, (balanced media) remains a pipe dream.”

Lee, Philemon and Kumaran Pillai -- TISG’s publisher -- are all alumni of TOC. Both Philemon and Pillai were chief editors of TOC, while Lee was Commentaries Editor when the site split from TOCL.

Despite that, not many mentions of TOC -- now widely considered a one-man show -- were brought up during the press conference. The team however emphasised that TISG and TOC are now simply competitors.

“It’s unrelated, and we have no collaboration with them; neither do any of the ways they report or what they do affect us or vice versa. We are independent and apart,” said lawyer Alfred Dodwell, who sits on TISG’s board of directors.

TSIG's independence from opposition parties

Philemon, a former Singapore People’s Party (SPP) candidate for the 2015 general election, will be working full time with TISG from June 1. He declined to comment on whether he was still with the SPP, but TISG sought to explain that it was still independent despite Philemon’s potential political affiliations.

Pillai said that politicians have a choice to either continue on with politics in between elections, or to move on from their job. “Do you spend five years in the wilderness, or do you get a job and do something with your life? I think to stay relevant, he’s chosen a particular path, and we support that.”

On whether TISG was afraid of being seen as an opposition mouthpiece, Pillai said investors were originally spooked because of the socio-political tag. "I think we’ve overcome that barrier in terms of fundraising, and now we’re able to attract advertisers -- they don’t really care whether their advertisements are run on TISG or TOC or any other website.”

Philemon added: “Personally I think that you should learn to embrace whatever tags people give you, and try to be good at the tags people are giving you.”

TISG currently has six shareholders on its board of directors, which include Alfred Dodwell, Kumaran Pillai and former newspaper editor PN Balji.

Pillai declined to comment on the identities of the remaining three.

Potential implications of the TISG-TOCL collaboration

TOCL, which is still obligated to declare funds that goes to TOC despite the split last year, could possibly collaborate with overseas organisations.

This is so as TOCL is no longer affiliated with TOC.

It would thus be possible for TOCL to collaborate with overseas organisations, as long as funds do not go to TISG.

Not that TOCL is funding TISG through their partnership. "Content sharing is currently the main component of the partnership,” Lee told "We are also open to tapping on each other's expertise to offer event space, publishing services or online marketing to potential clients."

As such, TISG was not concerned about possible regulatory actions, according to Pillai. “We depend on advertising revenue, we don’t go out and solicit funds with any parties, whether locally or abroad.”

TOCL was asked to return S$5,000 worth of revenue in March from Monsoons Book Club, a UK-based non-commercial entity headed by political exile Tan Wah Piow.

The case is still under review.


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Top photo by Ng Yishu

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