Workers' Party has issued a statement towards the response by Ministry of Law (MinLaw) on Sunday (22 Jan), stating that it had not answered two pertinent questions which were poised in its original statement on the same day.
Minlaw in its response to WP's statement on 22 Jan, stated WP's statement "is misconceived and misrepresents the issues and the Government’s aims.". It further noted that "The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA to protect itself from harassment."
While WP welcomes the clarification by MinLaw that the Government does not intend to amend the POHA to protect itself from harassment but it voiced its concern that the Ministry has not stated if it will amend the POHA or introduce new laws to protect itself from false information.*
WP also noted that MinLaw's reply neglected to mention that the Workers’ Party’s original statement saying that the Government possesses significant resources and access to media channels that it can use to address false statements. (WP's emphasis)
It wrote, "In fact, MinLaw’s entire statement on 22 January focused on the distinction between false information and harassment, splitting hairs and diverting attention with bad insinuations about the Workers’ Party’s good faith in raising this issue."
The two key points which WP states that were not addressed:
- a) If the intent of the POHA was to protect the government, be it from either false information or harassment, why was this not stated in Parliament in an upfront and unambiguous manner? When moving the Bill in March 2014, why was the need to protect the government not directly explained at all? The government’s Parliamentary speeches in moving the bill focused on protecting individuals from harm – a fact highlighted by the Court of Appeal in its majority judgment in AG Vs Ting Choon Meng. Had the government intended the POHA to be used to protect itself, it ought to have explained and defended this application of the law explicitly and directly during the Parliamentary debate rather than focusing that debate on the protection of individuals.
- b) Why does the government need these extensive provisions under the law to protect itself, whether from false information or harassment, given the vast media resources at its disposal to put across information in the public domain?
WP argues that too broad an application of the POHA beyond the protection of individuals, including and especially through retroactive legislation, may deter legitimate critical comment and debate, thereby weakening public trust in Singapore’s political institutions and eroding our democracy. Stating that such matters are which the Ministry of Law also claims to be of concern in its response.
Protection of democratic society and institution through education and civil debates
WP states, "The surest way to strengthen and protect our democratic society and institutions is to ensure a citizenry that is well-educated about our political system, well-informed about key issues of the day, well-versed in critical thinking, and familiar with robust but civil debate. Independent media and civil society are integral to such outcomes."
"If the government cannot counter falsehood convincingly with truth using the massive communications resources as its disposal, without intimidating its critics using all manner of legal tools, then it ought to review whether what it holds to be the truth is in fact so or merely a difference of opinion."
*Note that MinLaw's statement is that the Government does not intend to amend POHA to protect itself from "harassment", not from "false information".