Many have described the recent court decision, which ruled that the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) could not be used by the government against The Online Citizen (TOC) and Dr Ting Choon Meng, as a “landmark” case.
From a layman’s perspective, it seems entirely logical to me that the government should not be able to use the POHA. When one thinks of the concept of harassment, it would be reasonable to presume that an entity as powerful as MINDEF requires no protection at all! Indeed, one can be forgiven for assuming that the POHA exists to protect vulnerable individuals from harassment by big and powerful entities such as MINDEF!
It therefore, took me by complete surprise to read that the government had intended for the POHA to apply to it in the first place. Why would an influential government body with all the resources and backing of the state as well as recourse to the mainstream media even require the POHA?
Why then are so many people describing the decision as “landmark” when it appears to be an entirely reasonable conclusion? Is it because we have all unconsciously supposed that the courts would never ever rule against the government?
Secondly, it would appear that the government is now looking at ways in which it can prevent the spread of falsehoods now that the courts have held that it cannot use the POHA. Is this really necessary?
As set out above, MINDEF has all the resources of the state. Do they really need protection from harassment? Isn’t the best way to combat the spread of falsehoods transparent engagement with the media (including credible independent online media platforms)? Why does it need to resort to court cases to clamp down on individuals?
Regardless of intention, the government’s statement that it “will study the judgment and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods,” conjures an image of a spoilt toddler throwing his toys out of his pram because he didn’t get his way. Is this the impression the government would like to present?
What constitutes a “falsehood” in the first place? In this instance, TOC made clear that it had written to MINDEF for its version. This makes it manifestly clear that there are two versions to the story. How then is this a “falsehood”?
Dr Ting is an individual who has invested his money, efforts and hard work into his company. MINDEF, on the other hand, is an all-powerful entity with exceedingly deep pockets. All MINDEF needed to do was to issue a statement drawing the public’s attention to the court decision which ruled that Dr Ting’s patent was not valid. This statement would have been carried by not just TOC but virtually all the media platforms. Why resort to the POHA as if it were some helpless victim?
Besides, is Dr Ting not entitled to his opinion that the ruling on the patent was incorrect? Is an opinion a “falsehood”? If so, we are venturing into dangerous territory that should be best avoided.
While the government may not have had any negative intentions behind that statement, it does come across very ominous. Could it be taken as a threat for anyone who would dare to express an opinion?
I am heartened that the Workers’ Party (WP) has raised this issue. It reinforces the importance of a strong opposition. All governments require checks and balances and the Singapore government is no exception.