The socio-political website New Naratif, which founded and managed by historian Thum Ping Tjin, was recently accused by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) of breaching election rules over the period of the General Elections (GE) in July 2020.
The Elections Department (ELD) said in a statement on 18 September that 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 alleged that this amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under Section 83(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.
The ELD claimed that neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this GE to conduct election activity.
“Election activity” defined as any activity that aims to promote or procure 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.
Following that, the publication said in a Facebook post on 21 September that the Singapore Police has seized Dr Thum’s mobile phone and laptop after he was interrogated by the police for over four hours.
Dr Thum also uploaded a video on Facebook on the same day, urging the ELD to drop their police report against him and implored the Government to “stop harassing” independent media and critics of the Government.
Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that online news site AsiaOne had also published quite a number of paid advertisements on Facebook between 30 June to 11 July.
AsiaOne ran approximately 240 ads during GE period
Based on the Ad Library by Facebook – which offers a searchable collection of all ads running across Facebook apps and services, including Instagram – it was found that AsiaOne has published a total of 240 paid advertisement related to social issues, elections and politics on Facebook between 30 June to 11 July.
Of those, 148 ads were related to the elections in Singapore.
For those who are not aware, AsiaOne is owned by mm2 Asia and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). As of 3 July 2018, mm2 and SPH Invest hold 51 per cent and 49 per cent equity interest, respectively in the online news site, as reported by AsiaOne.
The search result on Ad Library indicated that AsiaOne had spent $11,512 on ads related to social issues, elections or politics between 27 September 2019 to 22 September 2020.
While the total amount spent on ads related to social issues, elections or politics within 7 days was $661.
The screenshot below showed some of the paid ads that the news outlet had published between 7 July to 8 July 2020, of which all of these ads (that are shown in the screenshot) are related to the GE and used the hashtag #GE2020.
AsiaOne had spent S$100 for each of these ads, to reach one million of the estimated size of audience.
Despite all these paid ads by AsiaOne during the GE, no police report was made against the news outlet.
Considering the fact that New Naratif is also considered as a news outlet, it raised the question as to why AsiaOne is not in violation of the PEA while New Naratif is?