Activists and critics head to court

Issue 72

Greetings from Kathmandu! I’m here representing New Naratif at a gathering of start-ups, trying to figure out ways to be financially sustainable. I’m really honoured to be surrounded by people from all over the world doing such amazing work, but it’s also doing my head in a little bit. Business is not my forte in the slightest (hence a Milo Peng Fund rather a full-on campaign to monetise this newsletter, as you can see), so I tend to find it pretty intimidating and just want to lock myself into my hotel room where I can write essays in peace! But these things need to be learnt and done… and in that vein please join New Naratif as a member or donate!


🏅 Congratulations to Jonathan Chan for being the first Singaporean diver to qualify for the Olympics!

Singaporeans in court

Yeah, let’s just make this a theme this week: first up we have news of civil rights activist Jolovan Wham’s High Court trial, appealing the decision of the lower court to convict him for organising an illegal assembly (i.e. the indoor forum where Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Skyped in). He’ll be at Court 9C at 10am at the High Court—people should be able to head down to observe and/or show support.

Then we have the hearing for Daniel de Costa’s constitutional challenge, to be argued by human rights lawyer M Ravi. It’ll be on 27 November at 9:30am at the State Courts. The question before the court is whether the phrase “the reputation of such person” in Section 499 of the Penal Code (which covers criminal defamation) refers only to “natural persons”—if it does, then it won’t cover the government or any state organ, which means they can’t claim that Daniel or Terry Xu of The Online Citizen have defamed “members of Cabinet”. So that’s definitely one challenge to watch!

Last but 100% not least we have the defamation lawsuit that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has filed against Terry. Lee’s lawyers are arguing that the TOC article which repeated claims made by his siblings have “gravely injured” his reputation. Terry has since announced that he isn’t going to crowdfund his legal defence, because he isn’t going to have a lawyer at all: he’ll represent himself. I’m getting flashbacks to when Roy Ngerng represented himself and cross-examined Lee Hsien Loong—Lee might take the stand this time too, and maybe his siblings too? God, that courtroom is going to be jam-packed if the siblings do testify!

Heating up

I’ve said that Singapore is definitely hotter now than when I was a kid; I was generally complaining, but now the Meterological Service Singapore says that we’re heating up twice as fast as other countries. If carbon emissions continue to rise at the same rate, we could be seeing maximum daily temperatures of 35˚C–37˚C, plus humidity, by 2100. 😱😱😱🥵 One factor contributing to this is our reliance on air-conditioning—and here I’m guilty as charged.

So, what’s “fake news”?

The Media Literacy Council came under fire this past week for claiming that satire was a type of “fake news”, which led to them making a really poor apology in which they said sorry for giving the “wrong impression”. I had quite a bit of sympathy for the MLC at first, because in a way you could say that satire is “fake news” (think The Onion)… but that apology was just miserable.

What I think this sorry episode highlights, though, is how “fake news” as a term has no place in media literacy education. It’s a really, really blunt term that can mean anything and everything at this point, and isn’t useful for teaching media literacy.

Not a Yellow Ribbon for everyone

According to the Yellow Ribbon Project (which advocates for rehabilitation and a second chance for ex-offencers), an anti-death penalty message printed on a bib for their prison run isn’t “in line with their cause”. Yeesh.


Film festival time!

Exciting news! The Freedom Film Festival is coming (starting first in Kuala Lumpur before heading down to Singapore later in the year) and this time there’s a Freedom Film Network/New Naratif collaboration!

An Online Citizen is a 20-minute documentary shot and directed by my better half Calum Stuart, with support/input from New Naratif. The documentary focuses on Terry Xu and his work with The Online Citizen within the context of Singapore’s media landscape, and how the upcoming Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) could affect things.

The premiere will be on 28 September from 5:30pm–6pm, followed by a panel on “fake news” that I’ll be on—if you’re in KL, do join us! Get a screening pass for the film here, and reserve your spot for the panel too!