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.

Full letter sent to the Election Department of the Prime Minister Office

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, is shocked at the police complaint filed by an assistant returning officer of your department against New Naratif for boosting posts on Facebook as well as at the way New Naratif’s Managing Director, Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, has been treated by police.

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.

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. During the election period, New Naratif boosted 13 posts, five of which were declared in breach of Singapore’s Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) and a take-down order was issued by the Elections Department. Following the take-down order, Facebook removed the five posts.

As your department highlighted in a press release on 18 September, under the PEA, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or his 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.

The posts taken down by Facebook on the instructions of your department included a satirical video, a collection of articles on politics, another one on transparency and accountability in the country, one on the use of Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act during the elections and a post on racial discrimination in Singapore. This is information of public interest, which contributes to public debate. The content of the boosted posts is therefore either informative or satirical, and in both cases cannot be categorised as political advertisement for any candidate or political party. Boosting posts on Facebook to encourage readers to read articles on New Naratif is a common practice in journalism. Criminalizing it directly undermines journalistic activities and represents a serious violation of press freedom.

Numerous other news organizations in Singapore boosted posts on Facebook to promote news content related to the elections during the election period, without receiving take-down requests by your department. We find this a highly discriminatory action against a media organization that is known for its evidence-based and critical news coverage.

The police complaint led to the questioning of New Naratif’s Managing Director and IPI member, Dr. Thum, which lasted for four-and-a-half hours. 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.

The complaint filed by your department and the police interrogation of Dr. Thum is a clear violation of press freedom.

New Naratif has been repeatedly harassed by the Singapore government in a bid to silence the critical media organization. In 2018, New Naratif was denied registration in Singapore by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, claiming that it would be against national interests and accusing the organization of being used by foreigners to engage in political activity in Singapore. A year later, a minister questioned the motivation and funding of the media outlet. In May this year, the Minister for Law and Home Affairs ordered issuance of a Correction Direction under the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act against an episode of “The Show with PJ Thum”, while another such order was issued in July against an episode of New Naratif’s “Political Agenda” podcast entitled “An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah”.

These actions amply demonstrate that New Naratif is being targeted by the government for being critical of its policies.

We therefore urge you to immediately withdraw the police complaint against New Naratif and uphold democratic principles allowing press freedom and a healthy political debate to flourish in the country.

Signed,
Barbara Trionfi
Executive Director

Subscribe
Notify of
8 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

MM Lee: My heart is heavy with sadness

EULOGY BY MINISTER MENTOR AT THE FUNERAL SERVICE OF MRS LEE KUAN…

反击尚穆根含沙射影诋毁 总编分享作业程序亲自指导报导方向

日前,内政部长暨律政部长尚穆根指责,《网络公民》雇用包括马来西亚等外国人,撰写有关新加坡政治的负面文章,包括一些可破坏社会凝聚力的煽动性文章。 对此,他认为国家面对“外部势力干预,政府有必要采取行动应对”。 他更点名其中有两篇文章,由名为“茹巴幸妮”(Rubaashini Shunmuganathan)的马国女子撰写,根据公开信息显示,他住在吉隆坡莎阿南。 他指由茹巴撰写的一篇文章呼吁新加坡公务员仿效香港的同业进行示威;另一文章则涉及诽谤总理(实则只是复述总理弟妹的指控),导致后者提告本社总编。 对此,本社总编许渊臣亦在《网络公民》英语站作出反驳,抨击尚穆根言论不公允、乃至似乎有恶意地含沙射影,诋毁本社信誉。 如果依照《海峡时报》照搬尚穆根的言论、未加查证的报导,让人误以为他所说的文章正是要鼓励本地公务员仿效香港的同业走上街头。 原文旨在呼吁公务员站出来为民发声 对此,许渊臣指出,如果去查看原文,会发现有关文章乃是引述博客的观点,呼吁本地公务员不要盲从执政党的政策,也应该要站出来为民发声。 在那篇文章,鄞义林分享公务员分享一张照片,那是香港公务员的“连侬墙”,张贴便利贴表达他们对警察滥权、反修例问题等的关注。从头到尾,并没有鼓吹公务员仿效暴力示威。 至于尚穆根的疑问“究竟谁操控她(茹巴)、付她薪水?他的目的是什么?”对此,许渊臣直接回答道,正是他自己,他请茹巴为他工作。 他也上载一张照片,清楚展示本社的作业方式。对于有关被指冒犯总理的文章,对于文章导向、如何撰写和角度,都由总编亲自给予指示,茹巴并没有在指示以外添加其他内容,“所以不管他是马来西亚人、新加坡人、印度人等,有差别吗?”…

Malaysian transport agency prefers Johor terminus; Singapore surprised

Singapore has expressed surprise over a comment made by Malaysian Land Public…

Collection rate of free masks is only 54%, distribution extended to end Feb

On Sunday (9 February), the People’s Association (PA) revealed that only 54…