The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, has urged the Singapore Elections Department (ELD) through a letter to drop a police complaint against Dr Thum Ping Tjin, an IPI member and managing director of New Naratif.
The current Police investigation on Dr Thum is in relation to a police report filed by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in the General Election 2020 against New Naratif for publishing paid advertisements. The ARO had issued three notices to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July, and 8 July 2020 to remove five unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.
The ARO alleges that this amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent election.
Under the PEA, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or their election agent. “Election activity” includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates at the election.
Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity, said ELD.
The Police made their way over to Dr Thum’s residence upon conducting a four-and-a-half-hour interview with him on 21 September where they then seized his laptop as evidence. The phone had been earlier seized by the Police.
IPI which has members in over 120 countries, sent a letter to the ELD under Prime Minister’s Office on 8 October in a statement on 9 October, wrote. “During the interrogation, police officials pressured Dr. Thum to admit that New Naratif was attempting to influence the elections. The police also seized his phone and escorted him to his house where they confiscated his laptop.”
“New Naratif is an independent media organization that is known for its in-depth, evidence-based coverage of news. Like other media organizations and digital media platforms, New Naratif uses social media to reach out to its readers and interested audiences”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in the letter. “It is a common practice for media organizations to boost their posts on Facebook and other social media platforms, especially during important events like national elections.”
Items seized by the Police from Dr Thum’s residence are still confiscated till today.