Police investigating New Naratif for allegedly publishing illegal paid election ads on Facebook

The conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or his election agent. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Assistant Returning Officer has filed a police report against socio-political website New Naratif for allegedly publishing paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity, the Elections Department (ELD) has said.

The police confirmed that the report was made and added that they are investigating the matter.

In a statement on Friday (Sept 18), the ELD said the Assistant Returning Officer had issued notices to Facebook on July 3, 7 and 8, during the campaign period for the 2020 General Election to remove five unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.

The ELD said the ads amounted to election activity, defined in the Parliamentary Elections Act as 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.

This requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or election agent.

The Act also states that such material can be considered election advertising "even though it can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve any other purpose as well and even though it does not expressly mention the name of any political party or candidate".

Said the ELD: "Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this general election to conduct election activity."

The ELD said it issued the first takedown notice to Facebook on July 3 and released a media statement saying that New Naratif had been deemed to be conducting election activity for placing paid Internet Election Advertising and that it had not been authorised to do so.
The department also "reminded the public of the regulations".

"However, on July 4, New Naratif publicised the takedown decision and continued to publish other paid advertisements," the ELD said.

In its Facebook post on July 4, New Naratif said a "boosted post" it had paid for, featuring a satirical video, had been removed after the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) issued a notice to Facebook.

The video was a parody of a perfume advertisement, featuring clips of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Among other things, it accuses PM Lee of targeting his critics under the guise of the rule of law.

"The argument of this satirical video is that Singaporean laws are written so broadly as to effectively make a huge swath of legitimate political activity illegal without a permit, with the discretion to take action in the hands of senior officials and/or politicians," said New Naratif in its post.

It added: "By declaring this satirical advertisement commenting on the rule of law in Singapore to be election advertising, and ordering the takedown, IMDA has demonstrated exactly the point of the video. We thank the IMDA for this effective demonstration of rule of law in Singapore."

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 an offence may be liable to a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.

The Straits Times has contacted New Naratif for comment.

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