Police report filed against socio-political site New Naratif for paid ads during GE2020

A police report has been filed by the assistant returning officer against socio-political site New Naratif for publishing paid ads that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act during the recent 2020 General Election, the Elections Department said.

Three notices were issued by the assistant returning officer to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July and 8 July. Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, 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.

Conducting election activity without authorisation by a candidate or his election agent from the start of the campaign period is an offence under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act. Any person convicted of such offence may be liable to a fine of up to SG$2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months.

According to the Elections Department, neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity.

After the first takedown was issued to Facebook on 3 July, the Elections Department also released a media statement that New Naratif was deemed to have conducted election activity for placing paid Internet election ads and that it had not been authoritised to do so.

The statement explained that New Naratif placed a programmatic paid ad on Facebook, that continued to be available after 30 June, Nomination Day. The ad amounted to election advertising, the Elections Department said, adding that all individuals are reminded that the publishing of paid ads requires authorisation by a candidate or an election agent from the start of campaign period, after end of Nomination Day proceedings. This ensures accountability, and prevents paid ads from being used as a conduit for foreign interference in the elections process, or for political parties and candidates to bypass the election expense limits, the Elections Department previously said.

However, on 4 July, New Naratif publicised the takedown decision and continued to publish other paid advertisements. New Naratif describes itself to be "a movement for democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia". It added that the site aims to "make Southeast Asians proud of [their] region, [their] shared culture, and [their] shared history".

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