Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Acra rebutts duo behind New Naratif website over foreign influence

SINGAPORE — Rebutting a statement issued by the New Naratif earlier in the day, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) said on Thursday (April 12) night that the website's political activities "would appear" to be funded not only by foreign entities but also citizens of other countries.

(Left) Historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han had sought to register a company funded by foreign groups to organise activities such as workshops and “democracy classroom” sessions.

(Left) Historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han had sought to register a company funded by foreign groups to organise activities such as workshops and “democracy classroom” sessions.

SINGAPORE — Rebutting a statement issued by the New Naratif earlier in the day, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) said on Thursday (April 12) night that the website's political activities "would appear" to be funded not only by foreign entities but also citizens of other countries.

And even if it is true – as New Naratif had claimed – that the Open Society Foundation (OSF) or Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), as well as possibly all of the website's foreign donors, may not be involved in its day-to-day running, this does not detract from the fact that the registration of a new company called OSEA Pte Ltd under New Naratif managing director Thum Ping Tjin and editor-in-chief Kirsten Han "would amount to allowing a foreign entity or foreigners to fund and influence political activities in Singapore".

Acra's rebuttal was the latest in the back-and-forth between the authority and Dr Thum and Ms Han, after their application to register OSEA Pte Ltd as a company was rejected as it would be "contrary to Singapore's national interests". Reiterating its reason for the rejection on Thursday, Acra said the applicants have 30 days to appeal.

The authority noted that New Naratif's statement had highlighted the fact that it received funding from "over 420 members in 17 different countries". Acra said: "In other words, its political activities in Singapore would appear to be funded by a number of foreigners – not only foreign entities like OSF but also citizens of foreign countries."

It pointed out that on top of its online activities, New Naratif is known to have organised discussion fora, workshops, and other events in Singapore, such as "democracy classroom" sessions. New Naratif clearly has a political agenda, Acra said, and it is not simply "a platform for journalism, research, art or community building" as it describes itself.

"Indeed, the application to register OSEA Pte Ltd specifically mentioned the organisation of fora, workshops and other events as its aim, aside from providing editorial services to New Naratif," Acra noted.

Earlier on Thursday, Dr Thum and Ms Han refuted allegations by Acra that OSEA Pte Ltd would be "used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore".

They also maintained that the work they do on New Naratiff is transparent and funded "substantially" by paying subscribers.

An unsigned statement posted on New Naratif's website said: "Any notion that we are, as Acra alleges, 'being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore' is unfounded."

On Wednesday, Acra said in a statement that Dr Thum and Ms Han had sought to register a company indirectly funded by controversial Hungarian-American financier George Soros to organise activities such as workshops and "democracy classroom" sessions and support the New Naratif.

OSEA Pte Ltd was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd (OSEA UK), a company incorporated in the United Kingdom last April.

The latter owns New Naratif, which was launched in September last year.

Acra noted that FOSI, a Swiss charitable foundation which is closely associated with the OSF founded and led by Mr Soros, had issued OSEA UK a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000).

The authority had also pointed out that the OSF was "expressly established to pursue a political agenda the world over, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries".

For example, the OSF is said to have provided financial backing to organisations opposing the Catholic Church's position in an upcoming referendum in Ireland.

In rejecting the application, which was filed on February 8, Acra also assessed the purposes of OSEA Pte Ltd to be "clearly political in nature".

Acra had also said that New Naratif has been publishing articles "critical of politics in regional countries".

"For example, its articles have claimed that certain regional governments are using violence to maintain political control, had manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have 'rigged' their electoral systems," it added.

Acra said OSF, FOSI and other foreign philanthropies and groups can fund the causes they like elsewhere, adding: "What happens in other jurisdictions is not the concern of the Singapore Government.

"In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics."

New Naratif said its statement that it had "volunteered information about the grant from OSF" to Acra. It stressed that the funds it had received did not impact its editorial decisions. "FOSI awarded the financing to New Naratif on the basis of our project concept and the grant does not impose any conditions beyond goals that we defined ourselves," the website said. "FOSI and the OSF do not have any involvement or input in New Naratif's editorial decisions or the day-to-day running of our start-up."

The website, which describes itself as focusing on journalism, research and art in South-east Asia, also said that it is "substantially supported by revenue" from 420 members in 17 different countries, who pay between US$52 and US$552 per year. It added that it has received "numerous donations from individuals" as well, but did not elaborate.

Arguing that its work "speak for themselves", the website urged readers to judge its content for themselves "before coming to any conclusions".

The site lists Dr Thum as its managing director, Ms Han as its Editor-in-Chief, and British freelance writer Aisyah Llewellyn as its consulting editor for North Sumatra.

Cartoonist Sonny Liew and an unnamed Malaysian editor are listed as members of "The Team". Mr Liew said in response to queries from TODAY that his role is "somewhat ad hoc", but more focused at the moment on getting creators to contribute stories.

 

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.