SINGAPORE: The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) on Sunday (May 3) ordered The Real Singapore (TRS) to immediately stop posting articles and disable access to its website and social media accounts within six hours.
The MDA said it has suspended the statutory class licence for Ai Takagi and Yang Kaiheng to operate the website http://www.therealsingapore.com and other related computer online services such as its Facebook Page, Twitter account and mobile applications.
The administrators of TRS have until 8pm on Sunday to comply. If they fail to do so, they may face a maximum penalty of a S$200,000 fine and 3 years’ jail.
“The MDA is satisfied that Ai and Yang have contravened the Internet Code of Practice. They have published prohibited material as defined by the Code to be objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony,” it said in its press release.
“The MDA has noted that TRS has deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties. TRS has also inserted falsehoods in articles that were either plagiarised from local news sources or sent in by contributors so as to make the articles more inflammatory.”
At least two out of TRS’ three known editors are believed to be foreigners: Ai is Australian, while another editor, Melanie Tan, is believed to be Malaysian. “The foreign editors were responsible for several articles that sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore,” MDA said.
“The MDA believes this editorial strategy of deceiving readers and doctoring articles was an attempt to increase traffic to TRS, and thus boost advertising revenue. In so doing, TRS, including its two foreign editors, were seeking to profit at the expense of Singapore’s public interest and national harmony,” it added.
MDA has notified Takagi and Yang to immediately stop posting any more articles on TRS and related services, and within six hours, disable access to their website and related computer online services.
“Thereafter, they are not to resume operations under any other name. They have also been given seven days to provide information relating to TRS’ operations and to make representations as to why their class licence should not be cancelled”.
TRS describes itself as a “user generated content site for all Singaporeans to express themselves freely and without any form of censorship”. The couple behind it, Yang, a 26-year-old Singaporean, and 24-year-old Takagi have been charged with seven counts of sedition. This is for articles that have “tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different groups of people in Singapore”.
The MDA noted that Takagi and Yang have been charged with seven counts of publishing seditious articles on TRS and TRS Facebook page. Additionally, they been charged with refusing to comply with written orders to produce documents considered by the police investigator to be necessary for the investigation.
“They have also refused to disclose how much advertising revenue they have been collecting,” the regulator said. “Further, TRS has continued to publish material that contravenes the ICOP even after Ai and Yang were charged.”
TRS states that its website is hosted in Sweden, USA and Switzerland. MDA said previously, Takagi and Yang were “out of the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Act as they were running their operations outside Singapore”. However, since December, the two have been running their operations from Singapore, bringing them within the jurisdiction of the Act, MDA said.
“Today’s action certainly demonstrates that the MDA does have the legislative tools for them to ensure that social media will not be a source of discord, division, tension or even violence in the local context,” said Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University’s School of Law.
“What it does is to show that the MDA is prepared to act in appropriate situations, and so it’s a reminder to the other social media sites to ensure that they remain responsible, remain accountable for what they post and recognise that they do have a social responsibility in putting forth accurate and reliable information.”