ACRA's allegations of foreign influence 'unfounded': New Naratif website

ACRA's allegations of foreign influence 'unfounded': New Naratif website

PJ Thum Kirsten Han
Historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

SINGAPORE: New Naratif, the website linked to a company that historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han sought to register in Singapore, said that allegations of foreign influence by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) were "unfounded".

The statement from the website, published on Thursday (Apr 12), came after the application to register the company OSEA Pte Ltd in Singapore was rejected by ACRA on the grounds that it was contrary to Singapore's national interest.

Dr Thum and Ms Han were named in the Feb 8 application for the company that has been deemed "political" and would have been linked to a British firm that received funding from a Swiss organisation.

In a statement, New Naratif said: "Any notion that we are, as ACRA alleges, 'being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore' is unfounded."

It added that the company OSEA Pte Ltd would have been wholly owned by UK-based Observatory Southeast Asia which published the website.

"Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd is a non-profit company; its revenue goes towards the sustainable running of New Naratif," the statement said.

New Naratif is "substantially supported by revenue from its members" with more than 420 members in 17 different countries, and has received "numerous donations from individuals", the statement said.

"When ACRA asked for more details about the operations of both OSEA Pte Ltd and Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd, we answered their questions in good faith. In response to ACRA’s question to us about whether we had any links or affiliation, formal or otherwise, with any local or foreign businesses, groups, or organisations, we volunteered information about the grant from OSF," the statement added.

New Naratif is an online multimedia platform in which Dr Thum and Ms Han are also involved as managing director and editor-in-chief, respectively. In the statement, it describes itself as "a platform for Southeast Asian journalism, research, art and community-building. It stands for openness, transparency and engagement".

On its website, New Naratif also said it "seeks to promote democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of the media".

Its team includes Dr Thum and Ms Han along with graphic novelist Sonny Liew, and British freelance writer Aisyah Llewellyn.

ACRA noted in its statement on Wednesday that New Naratif has published articles critical of politics in regional countries, including claiming 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".

"The purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature," ACRA said.

Ms Han and Dr Thum were recently witnesses in an eight-day Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods, which concluded on Mar 29.

Dr Thum is a research fellow and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. 

Source: CNA/mn(jh)