A website that has been dogged by allegations that its articles promote xenophobia in Singapore has shut down after getting less than one day's notice to pull its plug.
The Real Singapore (TRS) website shut down at 7.05pm yesterday, in compliance with an order from the Media Development Authority (MDA).
The order also covered the TRS mobile application and social media pages.
The MDA said in a statement that the editors of the website had contravened Singapore’s Internet code of practice by publishing “prohibited material” deemed “objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony”.
TRS had “deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties” and “inserted falsehoods in articles" so as “to make the articles more inflammatory”, MDA said.
'Sought to profit at expense of public interest'
In doing so, the site had sought to “make profit at the expense of Singapore’s public interest and national harmony”, the regulator said.
The site, which at its peak enjoyed 2.6 million visitors per month, has been accused by observers of persistent xenophobia and sensationalism in a city-state with a strong migrant worker presence.
One of the articles flagged as seditious was an embellished report of a clash which occurred during Singapore’s annual Hindu Thaipusam procession.
The site falsely reported that a Filipino family had sparked a clash between ethnic Indians and the police during the Thaipusam procession.
The site’s editors had shrugged off the allegations on the article’s accuracy. An editor’s note stated that there was “no way to verify the authenticity” of the article, which was put together from readers’ accounts.
The Real Singapore is not the first site to close as a result of the media regulator’s actions. In 2013, the MDA asked another news site, Breakfast Network , to register or face closure. The site elected to close.
This would, however, be the first time the media regulator retracted the licence to operate a website since the licensing scheme’s inception in 1996.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen it enforced so aggressively, with six hours to take down material,” said Mark Cenite, who teaches media law in Singapore’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
Many Singaporeans cheered the regulator’s decision, despite the site’s apparent popularity.
Literature critic Gwee Li Sui posted on Facebook that the site’s “reign” was over. “Rejoice, my countrymen! TRS is no more!” Gwee wrote.
‘Penchant for gutter journalism’
Alvin Lim, who operates local lifestyle blog alvinology.com , said that not many people were mourning the site’s closure “given its penchant for gutter journalism”.
Lim added, “I believe people are discerning enough to tell the rubbish from the truth.”
TRS’ editors, Australian-born Ai Takagi, Singaporean Yang Kaiheng and Malaysia-born Melanie Tan, were charged with seven counts of sedition on April 17 for publishing articles that had the “tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility” among different ethnicities in Singapore.
The trio were also charged with withholding the site’s financial documents from police.
Yesterday’s ruling removes Takagi and Yang’s licence to operate the website.