SINGAPORE: The High Court has rejected a request by The Online Citizen to overturn orders by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to shut down its website and social media accounts.

The alternative news site and its social media accounts were taken offline in September, after authorities suspended their license for repeatedly failing to disclose its funding sources. The license was then canceled by IMDA.

TOC Editor-in-Chief Terry Xu, represented by attorney Lim Tean, has appealed to the High Court to seek judicial review, to overturn IMDA’s orders. The orders go against its Chinese website and social media accounts, as well as its ban on providing new broadcasting services.

In a judgment rendered Thursday (December 16), Judge Valerie Thean concluded that the arguments made by TOC and the documents provided on the scope of the class license did not disclose a prima facie case. She denied the application for leave to seek the quashing orders and related statements.

Mr Lim argued that only major English TOC websites fell under the class license that was suspended and canceled, and that IMDA’s orders regarding its Chinese website and social media accounts should be rescinded. .

In response, IMDA stated that TOC “fundamentally misunderstood” the licensing regime under the Broadcasting Act because all online computer services provided by TOC are automatically subject to a class license by application of the law.

TOC’s class license suspension and IMDA’s instructions would therefore apply to all online IT services provided by TOC, including its Chinese website and social media platforms.

In her judgment, Justice Thean said TOC should have appealed to the Minister first. In any event, TOC has no prima facie case for granting the requested orders, she said.

In a Facebook post after the judgment was released, Mr. Lim said that “the court clarified that TOC’s websites can still be operated from outside Singapore,” even though TOC lost in its claim.

IMDA said in a press release after the judgment that the obligation to report funding sources is to prevent registered Internet content providers “from being controlled by foreign players” or from being influenced by foreign entities or funding.

This is to ensure that there is no foreign influence in domestic politics, he added.

The authority added that a plaintiff seeking judicial review should “exhaust all alternative remedies”, including appealing to the Minister of Communications and Information, before going to court.