The Progress Singapore Party has been slammed for making “several untrue claims” about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
In a joint statement, the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Communication and Information raised 3 points criticising the PSP for publishing falsehoods.
This comes as the PSP released a statement attacking POFMA, after PSP member Brad Bowyer became the first opposition politician in Singapore to be whacked under the Act for publishing online falsehoods.
The PSP said that:
“Currently, POFMA empowers the Minister to declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards. This does not measure up to the standards of Transparency and Accountability. And where the news involves the Government, it also fails the standard of Independence.”
The party added that:
“PSP agrees that the Government needs to be able to act speedily to curb the viral spread of fake news. For that, we support the need for Ministers to be empowered to demand news purveyors to post a link to a site where the Government can provide the facts to swiftly stop the spread of misinformation. However, to declare any news as falsehood and to impose any penalties thereof, PSP is of the view that it should be done by the Courts of Singapore for Independence.”
In response, the Law Ministry and MCI said that the PSP’s claim that ministers can use POFMA to declare any news as fake without any justification is untrue.
“The law explicitly requires Ministers to state why the specified statements are false. There are precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. When POFMA was used recently, the reasons why the statements were false were explained clearly. Significantly, PSP and Mr Brad Bowyer do not deny that his post contained falsehoods.”
The ministries also took issue with the PSP’s claim that there are “no criteria or standards” for ministers to use POFMA.
“The law states that POFMA can only be used when clear criteria are met. And the process enables an aggrieved person to challenge the Minister’s direction in court within days, and at minimal cost.”
The ministries also took issue with the PSP’s insinuation that ministers would be the ones to impose penalties for any infractions and that those penalties should be imposed by the courts instead.
“PSP says that Ministers can “impose any penalties” they wish. This too is untrue. Ministers can give directions, for example requiring a correction to be posted. But if the direction is not complied with, only the Courts can impose penalties, in accordance with due process and established legal principles.”
The PSP has not responded to the statement from the ministries.
Last month, POFMA was used for the first time on PSP member Brad Bowyer.
Bowyer was made to append a government clarification on a Facebook post he made, regarding statements he made about the independence of Temasek Holdings and the GIC, among other things.
The original post remains published on Bowyer’s Facebook page, together with the clarification.
Commenting on the incident, the ministries said:
“His original post remains accessible, along with a link to the Government’s correction/clarification of his statement. Readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth. The PSP statement includes a pictorial representation of mouths being taped. How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read. His rights to free speech remain unaffected. He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post. Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech.”