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New Naratif is the trading name of and is published by Observatory Southeast Asia Limited, whose objectives are:

  • Build a broader understanding and more diverse, complex view of the Southeast Asian region that helps contribute to solutions for important issues facing the people of the Southeast Asian region.
  • Innovate on research, news, and culture publication in the Southeast Asian region, in content, form, and channel, and offer an outlet for talented Southeast Asian researchers, journalists, and artists.
  • Promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information, and expression.

In its third year of existence, New Naratif continues to receive accolades in Southeast Asia and globally for our stories on the region. The political and financial challenges remain immense, but our membership continues to grow and we have a steady pipeline of stories and events which reflect growing impact on the political discourse in Southeast Asia. The ongoing pandemic introduced a new challenge but we were able to weather it and successfully fundraised US$87,956.85, exceeding our US$75,000 goal.

Content

Between 1 April 2020 to 30 September 2020, a total of 141 pieces of content were published. This includes 19 audiobooks as part of audiobook version of New Naratif: The First Year into accessible audio format. Not including audiobooks, we published 122 pieces of content. This is an increase on the total of 97 pieces published in the previous six months:

FormatAmount
Journalism54
Research9
Comics13
Videos17
Podcasts29
Audiobooks (Youtube)19

Of the 76 print articles (Journalism, Research, and Comics) published in this time period,

LanguageNumber
English59
Bahasa Indonesia8
Bahasa Malaysia4
Chinese3
Burmese1
Bahasa Iban*1

*First ever content published in Bahasa Iban!

New Naratif has published 122 items over 26 weeks, for an average of 4.7 items per week – well above of our target of two articles per week. Excluding translations of the same article, we have published 59 items, or 2.27 items per week. 

Most viewed content (published 1 April to 30 September)

JournalismUnique Pageviews
Singapore: Let’s not ignore the downtrodden; nor those who speak up for them7,859
“We’re Asking for Fairness” – The Long Fight Against Racism in Brunei1,985
Fighting Fowl in Sulawesi1,809
ResearchUnique Pageviews
How Gerrymandering Creates Unfair Elections in Singapore50,072
Explainer: Discrimination in Singapore4,492
Singapore: The Limits of a Technocratic Approach to Healthcare3,375
ComicsUnique Pageviews
What Is the MA63? And Why it Is Important to Sabah and Sarawak18,259
NN Explains: The Singapore General Elections11,510
NN Explains: What Is Voter Secrecy?3,936
PodcastsUnique Pageviews
An Interview With Dr Paul Tambyah1,527
Meritocracy in Singapore1,200
Youth Power in Malaysian Politics1,112

Membership

New Naratif’s membership continues to grow. At the end of March 2020, we had 833 number of members. By the end of August 2020, we had 1303 members. Many members joined due to our fundraising campaign from April to June 2020.

MonthCurrent MembersMembers GainedMembers Lost
April 20208998822
May 2020976869
June 2020111315518
July 2020121512624
August 202012252818
September 2020130310123

The majority of new members who signed up during this period of time came from:

  1. Singapore: 232 members
  2. United States: 26 members
  3. Malaysia: 21 members

Staffing

New Naratif is proud to be an organisation which prizes diversity. Our staff are majority female, and come from a wide range of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. They are all Southeast Asian (or permanently resident in Southeast Asia), intimately connected with their local communities, and passionate about telling important, meaningful, and relevant stories about our home region.

We are supported by a network of ~200 contributors across Southeast Asia. Our relationship with our contributors goes beyond just the publication of content. Our contributors are a valuable source of information, advice, and also function as eyes and ears on the ground to help us identify important issues which we can address.

New Naratif’s team has evolved in the period under review. As of September 2020, we employed 11 people:

  • Editor-in-Chief: Aisyah Llewellyn
  • Comics and Illustrations Editor: Charis Loke
  • Operations Manager: Chua Minxi
  • Membership Engagement Manager/Malaysia Lead: Deborah Augustin
  • Art and Design Editor: Ellena Ekarahendy
  • Marketing and Outreach Manager: Erik Nadir
  • Bahasa Malaysia Editor/Podcasts Editor: Kelly Anissa
  • Deputy Editor: Matt Surrusco
  • Indonesia Lead: Ranto Sibarani
  • Managing Director: Pingtjin Thum
  • Social Media Manager: Yi Peng Yap

New Naratif is also committed to publishing in multiple Southeast Asian languages. Due to technological and funding limitations, we are currently publishing chiefly in English, Bahasa Indonesia, and Bahasa Malaysia. 

Finances

New Naratif is a non-profit organisation. We have adhered to the principle of sustainable funding, spending only what we have on hand. 

From April to June 2020, New Naratif conducted a successful fundraising campaign. We raised a total of US$87,956.85, exceeding our US$75,000 goal.

Throughout this period, the world was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is having an extremely negative impact on media revenue in general, which includes New Naratif. We are are weathering the expected downturn for now but anticipate that it will get worse as the pandemic drags on. It continues to be of utmost important that we continue to expand our membership base, and find new grants and donations.

A chart showing a general breakdown of New Naratif’s expenditures is below. New Naratif prides itself on its progressive values, and central to this is paying staff fair and living wages. Salary costs have, accordingly, risen as New Naratif’s financial position has improved and will continue to do so in the future until New Naratif staff are fairly compensated.

For a full report of New Naratif’s financial position, please download the attached State of Income and Expenses:

Challenges

The political and regulatory environment for independent media remains overwhelmingly hostile. New Naratif was targeted by the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office for its success in covering the 2020 General Elections.

The Singapore Elections Department, which is not independent but part of the Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore, filed a police report against New Naratif on 18 September 202. The police reports allege that New Naratif “publish[ed] paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity” in the Singapore General Elections 2020. On 21 September 2021, Managing Director Thum Ping Tjin was summoned to Clementi Police Station, where he was interrogated for four hours. His home was subsequently raided, and his mobile phone and laptop seized.

Summary

  • The Prime Minister’s Office alleged that New Naratif broke the Parliamentary Elections Act by boosting Facebook posts containing elections-related content during the election.
  • Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the definition of the “election activity” and “election advertising” is so broad that it effectively criminalises all political speech during the election period as being illegal. This allows senior politicians/officials to take selective action against critics and independent media.
  • New Naratif boosted 13 Facebook posts during the election, all of which contained elections-related content. Of these 13, only five were ordered to be taken down by the Elections Department. 
  • Other organisations boosted posts with elections-related content during the election. Those posts were not subject to a takedown order, nor have police reports been filed against them. AsiaOne (a Singaporean media company partly owned by government-controlled Singapore Press Holdings) boosted around 240 posts, of which around 150 were directly related to the elections, during the election period.
  • The Prime Minister’s Office did not, at any time, write to New Naratif to inform New Naratif that posts had been taken down, why they had been taken down, or to establish clear guidelines and boundaries as to what constitutes election activity/advertising.
  • New Naratif does not deny boosting the posts, and the evidence is entirely online, yet the Singapore Police still found it necessary to interrogate Dr Thum Ping Tjin for four and a half hours, invade Dr Thum’s home, and seize his mobile phone and laptop.
  • New Naratif thus believes that the Prime Minister’s Office is abusing the law to attack New Naratif and that this is part of a long-standing campaign of intimidation and harassment against New Naratif by the Singapore government.

For more information, please visit newnaratif.com/new-naratif-under-attack/.

Southeast Asian journalists continue to regularly face violence and criminalisation, alongside other obstacles in reporting, such as the lack of freedom of information laws, politically appointed editors, and widespread self-censorship. All ASEAN countries are in the bottom half of the World Press Freedom Index, from Malaysia (the most improved country in the past year) at 101 to Viet Nam at 175 (out of 180). Other major markets for New Naratif include Indonesia at 119, Singapore at 158, and Cambodia at 144. The lone bright spot in Southeast Asia (relatively speaking) is Timor-Leste at 78. 

In summary, there remains a very difficult legal, regulatory, and political environment for independent media in Southeast Asia, on top of a market that does not generally pay for news. Publishing in this region also carries significant political risk. 

Long term financial sustainability remains a major challenge. However, we continue to grow every month. We continue to operate at a level that we feel is sustainable and, in the meantime, we will continue to apply for grants from various funding bodies. 

Looking Forward

Over the next 12 months, New Naratif has three main aims:

  1. Increase the share of income that is derived from members’ subscription fees.
  2. Improve the ability of our members to create positive change in Southeast Asia.
  3. Improve the functionality of our website, in particular improving user experience, language functionality, and the ability to display content.

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