On 18 September 2019, Singapore's prominent online vigilante platform SMRT Feedback launched a broadside against Singapore's pre-eminent alternative media The Online Citizen for using foreign ghost writers to publish articles about Singapore news and politics. SMRT Feedback alleged that Terry Xu, TOC's Editor-In-Chief was guilty of using foreigners to write defamatory articles about Lee Hsien Loong and 38 Oxley Road.
The funny thing is, having faced with years of over-zealous scrutiny and pressure from the Singapore authorities, TOC always had troubles recruiting and getting help with the website. If not for the dedication and patriotism Terry Xu has for Singapore, he would have long shut the website down and went about his daily mundane life minding his own business. Why would he choose to put himself under the microscope if not for love for Singapore? The facts speak for itself, Terry Xu and TOC are true Singaporean patriots who despite the harsh environment and regulatory regime imposed on them, still took things on the chin, all to stand up for Singaporeans and their rights. Terry's latest defamatory suit brought about by PM Lee Hsien Loong is yet another example of how hostile and "threatening" an environment Terry and TOC is working in.
Having explained the tough operating conditions, now ask yourselves, would any other Singaporean want to take up this writer's job where you face public scrutiny 24/7, you face verbal abuse by the sychophant internet brigade or perhaps risk putting your job on the line if you ever were to write something which offends powerful figures and ends up as a criminal or defamatory case? The simple answer is NO, most of Singaporeans have not awoken to these realities and to find another person like Terry, would be almost impossible. Many have partnered with Terry in this journey and many have left, unable to withstand the tremendous scrutiny.
So why is TOC's use of foreign writers a master stroke of genius? With TOC's miniscule operating budget, how could Terry stretch our strong Singapore dollar the way many of us travel across the causeway to buy cheaper groceries and fuel? Therefore, the hiring of Malaysian writers at 1/3 the salaries is a strategic decision that will help TOC stay afloat longer and keep doing the tough but important role it plays in local civil society.
Given that this is TOC, The Online Citizen we have been talking about, is there any doubts about their journalistic integrity? Just because the articles are written by cheaper Malaysian writers does not mean it has any lack of standards or are held to a lower bar than if the article was written by a Singaporean. TOC or Terry would definitely hold these writers to an equal standard, hence if the standards are the same, does their nationality really matter?
What truly matters is whether TOC stays afloat to keep marginalised Singaporean voices heard and holds the PAP government to account. Harping over nationality is just a red herring to distract Singaporeans from what truly matters and yet another attempt to heap pressure on TOC.
Stay strong TOC, remain steadfast Terry and thank you for your service to this sometimes ungrateful nation.