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Kirsten Han: We don’t take money if funder wants to influence or control editorial decisions

The editor in chief of New Naratif said that although they accepted grants from foreign bodies, the publication does not allow any interference by these parties

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Singapore—In response to remarks made by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam’ on September Wednesday, September 25, journalist and activist Kirsten Han sought to clarify that while New Naratif, of which she is editor-in-chief, receives grant money from foreign entities, the site does not let its donors influence publication decisions.

Ms Han recounted how in 2018, “the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority denied the application to register” OSEA Pte Ltd, “a subsidiary of the company that publishes New Naratif” on the grounds that it “would be contrary to Singapore’s national interests.”

She continued, “Our acceptance of a grant from a foundation associated with Open Society Foundation was highlighted, and New Naratif—a platform for Southeast Asian journalism, research, art, and community-building—was framed as a vehicle of foreign interference.”

Ms Han sought to clarify the Home Affairs and Law Minister’s remarks, as Mr Shanmugam had quoted something she had said in 2016.

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The Minister said, “Ms Han, on video, has said that Singapore has failed compared with Hong Kong, because 500,000 people don’t go on the streets to march, unlike Hong Kong. And she wants to change that through classes run by New Naratif.”

Ms Han replied that thus had been taken out of context.

“My point was that “‘500,000 people on the streets’ is not a useful KPI to use in measuring the strength and maturity of a country’s civil society—the communities, the networks, and the solidarity between them are far more important. These are the things that you need regardless of whether you have 500,000 people on the streets to protest or not.”

She added that since New Naratif had only been founded in September 2017, it would not have been possible for classes to be run by it when she made her speech in 2016.

Later in her post she said that she is within her rights as a Singaporean citizen.

“I’m merely exercising my rights as a Singaporean in Singapore. I’m doing my job as a journalist and following my convictions as an activist. I support the families of death row inmates because it’s the least I can do when they’re already grappling with such anxiety and grief. I hold democracy classrooms to facilitate space for others in Singapore to have good faith conversations on important national issues because they have a right to express themselves and engage in dialogue with others too.”

Mr Shanmugam had said, when talking about New Naratif,  “Everyone is entitled to their views, however reasonable or unreasonable. But my primary point is: Is it right for foreign funding to be received in order to advance these viewpoints?”

Ms Han in her post also clarified the transparency with which New Naratif receives its funding.

“New Naratif, conceived as a Southeast Asian platform, is supported by membership, donations, and grants. We’ve received foreign grant money, but we received it following applications through the proper channels, and we don’t take money if the funder wants to influence or control our editorial or operational decisions. New Naratif also operates with remarkable transparency: PJ (historian Dr Thum Pingtjin) and I are highly accessible, be it through email or regular open meetings, online or off. We also publish regular transparency reports where we openly talk about our achievements and challenges, and share full financial statements so people can see what money we have and how we spent it.”  / TISG

Read related: Director of documentary on TOC hopes people will ask “why Singapore needs a guy like Terry”

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