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.
New Naratif turned 4 years old on 9 September 2021. We have received a number of awards in the past year which underline New Naratif’s impact. Some highlights of the past year include:
- Sekolah Democracy introduced Malaysian youths to the basic principles of democracy in the Malaysian context;
- After we reported on the lack of funding for refugee education in Malaysia, donations from New Naratif readers allowed at least 14 students to stay in school.
- We produced a documentary on the hardships faced by abandoned children of UN peacekeepers, drawing attention to the peacekeepers’ record of sexual abuse.
- Reported on LGBTQIA+ issues and facilitated a secure online space for non-binary people to connect;
- Published a compilation of features and comics in BI which covers agrarian issues, gender diversity, racial discrimination, migrant workers, etc.
- Exposed a secret meeting between the National Unity Government and a US-based firearms enthusiast, triggering widespread debate about their commitment to preventing civilian casualties in the fight to end military rule.
- Following our successful coverage of 2020 General Elections and subsequent PAP campaign against it, the authoritarian PAP government introduced (and, in October 2021, passed) legislation specifically to disrupt New Naratif operations
In this period, we also shifted to Newspack. This service is a project of WordPress.com and the Google News Initiative, and is a wordpress-based publishing platform for news organisations. It is significantly cheaper than running our own website, and is extremely reliable with excellent technical support, but the trade off is that it significantly limits the options available for our website to what it can guarantee will work. For more, please see below.
Finally, in this period we formed a Research and Advocacy Department and launched a research project on Media Freedom in Southeast Asia.
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. Membership growth has falled during the pandemic but we continue to be able to weather it and have successfully fundraised US$117,821.75 to help us survive another year.
In this period, a total of 82 pieces of content were published.:
Of the 35 print articles (Journalism, Research, and Comics) published in this time period,
Most viewed content*:
|Shanmugam’s Stealth Coup in Singapore||17,038|
|“Every Journalist’s Worst Nightmare”: CNN’s Myanmar Misadventure||16,255|
|Dr. Sasa Visits a Bomb-Making Class||7,018|
|We Have Always Been Here||2,148|
|Duit Right: How to Fix Malaysian Political Financing||1,372|
|The Quadruple Crisis in Malaysia – and Lessons For Singapore||2,394|
|Undocumented and Unvaccinated: Malaysia’s Unequal Vaccine Rollout||402|
|The Online Citizen Banned: Discussion With Editor Terry Xu||323|
*Data shown from 6 May – 30 September 2021
- Our Members
|Month||Current Members||Members Gained||Members Lost|
As noted in the previous report, we had significant problems with the backend, leading to an inaccurate count of members. Non-paying and non-renewing members were included in the membership count, inflating the numbers. These include members who a) signed up for a membership using the bank transfer option but never sent in their payment; b) paid for the first year/month by bank transfer but then did not send in a payment to renew; c) had credit card information was invalid so the auto-renewal could not process their payment.
This, combined with other issues with our backend, led us to shift to Newspack. This has significantly improved the reliability of numbers. Some of these problems are, unfortunately, inherent to Woocommerce and we continue to meet with glitches. There is no data shown for September’s membership numbers as new issues arose with WooCommerce. These issues were fixed in October. We hope there will be no further issues going forward.
The majority of new members who signed up during this period of time came from:
- Singapore: 184 members
- Malaysia: 70 members
- United States: 56 members
In this period, we established a new Research and Advocacy Department. This led to three new team members – Research Editor, Network Coordinator, and Democracy Researcher (see below). We also saw the departure of Operations Manager Minxi Chua and Marketing and Outreach Manager Erik Nadir for new challenges, and we wish them well. We had not found a suitable Operations Manager by the time Minxi left, so Operations Administrator Sarah Hana was promoted to Operations Coordinator in order to cover the gap left by Minxi Chua as we searched for a new Operations Manager. (We subsequently hired an Operations Manager in November – see next report).
As of 30 September 2021, we have 12 team members on board:
- Pingtjin Thum, Managing Director
- Jacob Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief
- Matt Surrusco, Deputy Editor
- Kelly Anissa, Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia Editor and Podcast Editor
- Charis Loke, Comics and Illustrations Editor
- Deborah Augustin, Membership Engagement Manager and Malaysia Director
- Ellena Ekarahendy, Art and Design Manager
- Yi Peng Yap, Community Manager
- Sarah Hana, Operations Coordinator
- Samira Hassan, Research Editor
- Sahnaz Melasandy, Network Coordinator
- Fadhilah Primandari, Democracy Researcher
In this period, New Naratif concluded our successful fundraising campaign, having raised US$117,821.75. This guarantees that we will survive until the end of the financial year (31 March 2022).
A financial report for April to Sept 2021 can be found below or downloaded here (PDF).
Our statutory annual returns for the Financial Year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 may be found below or downloaded here (PDF).
The harassment of Managing Director Thum Ping Tjin by the PAP government of Singapore continued in this period. In August, the Singapore Police demanded that Dr Thum come for a third interrogation with them. No further details were provided as to why a third interview was needed, especially since Dr Thum had made clear all his answers would continue to be “no comment”. However, the police insisted it was necessary. Dr Thum not being in Singapore, he was unable to attend.
In early September, the police abruptly closed the case. Around the same time, the authorities ordered the closure of the only other leading news site in Singapore, The Online Citizen. Immediately afterwards, the PAP government tabled a new law in Parliament, the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) (The law was subsequently passed in October 2021). Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam made clear that the law was targeting New Naratif, with multiple references to New Naratif, including smears and at least one outright falsehood (that Dr Thum invited Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir to intervene in Singapore) about our activities.
FICA enables Shanmugam to simply declare New Naratif a proscribed site and make it illegal for Singaporeans to run, support, and advertise on our site. This would, at one stroke, criminalise Dr Thum and all Singaporean members of New Naratif. This represents a real challenge for New Naratif, as approximately two thirds of our members are Singaporean.
New Naratif believes that FICA is unlikely to be used against us, and that our best defence against the law is to a) diversify our income and membership; b) continue to act as openly as possible; and thereby c) demonstrate the Singaporeans have nothing to fear from this blatantly authoritarian and anti-democratic act.
Singapore is the most extreme example, but not unique. Cambodia is considering a similar law, while around Southeast Asia, laws continue to be passed to constrain freedom of speech. We will continue to fight for democracy in Southeast Asia.
While New Naratif is still growing, membership growth has slowed drastically. We believe the pandemic is constraining incomes and consequently leading people to reduce discretionary budgets for purchases like a New Naratif membership.
Consequently, we believe that in the next year we will have to seek out new grant funding in order to survive.
- Looking Forward
Over the next 12 months, New Naratif has three main goals:
- Raise sufficient funds through new grant funding to survive another year and put us in a position to achieve sustainability in the long term.
- Focus and restructure the organisation to improve our ability to empower our members to create positive change.
- Expand in Indonesia, through a greater number of Indonesian outputs, events, and ensuring that our website is fully accessible to Indonesian-language audience.