Local historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin received “special treatment in his representation” due to his “singling out” of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in his submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, said Workers’ Party Secretary-General Mr Pritam Singh in response to what has been observed by several activists and members of the public as “complicit silence” on the opposition politician’s part regarding the issue.
Mr Singh, in his reply to civil rights activist and investigative journalist Ms Kirsten Han’s query on the above Facebook post regarding his stance on the purportedly deliberate “character assassination” of Dr Thum by the Select Committee itself – of which the majority comprises PAP members – and even by the mainstream media, said that while the issues raised by the Select Committee were “much more significant than PJ [Dr Thum]”, the Committee was not able to overlook Dr Thum’s specific “singling out” of the PAP in his submission.
“There was no way they were going to let that stand on the parliamentary record, unrebutted. Singling out the PAP was PJ’s prerogative, consequences included,” wrote Mr Singh.
However, Mr Singh has maintained that he does not “endorse” the mainstream media’s method in reporting the issue surrounding the Select Committee’s pedantic scrutiny of Dr Thum’s credentials, saying that it is “unhelpful” and “compromises the serious issues raised” in the Select Committee’s report.
Mr Singh subsequently alluded to the “serious issues” raised in the Select Committee’s report such as the “opening of archives” and “freedom of information,” further reiterating the view that the PAP’s singling out of Dr Thum was not personal, but rather crucial to the discussion regarding authenticity and “freedom” of information.
Ms Han, however, strongly believed that the Select Committee’s publicly humiliating treatment of Dr Thum was far from impersonal, and even “clearly fell outside of the SC’s TOR [terms of reference]” or the proper scope of the Committee’s agenda, adding that the Select Committee’s report itself was the source of the negative angle taken by the mainstream media in their news reports:
Several other users have also disagreed with Mr Singh’s approach towards the issue:
Mr Singh reiterated the stance taken by the Select Committee in their opinion on Dr Thum’s submission, saying that “the conclusions PJ drew from his available sources, and the explanation of his decisions to exclude certain other sources, cannot support the contention that only the PAP and LKY peddled fake news with respect to Operation Cold Store.”
Dr Thum has provided his own response to the allegations hurled against him by the Select Committee in its report, citing multiple “statements from Oxford [University]” and both of his submissions to the Select Committee as a rebuttal:
In the same Facebook post dated 21 Sep, Dr Thum added that he “will respond more fully in due course”.
Several commenters have expressed their support for Dr Thum on his Facebook post:
Max Ong suggested that the PAP’s apparent intimidation of Dr Thum is typical of the ruling party’s purported silencing tactics against dissenting voices:
Dr Thum previously targeted by Law Minister K Shanmugam in six-hour hearing
Dr Thum was specifically targeted by the Select Committee in its report over his academic credentials, stating that it afforded “no weight” to his views, as he is not a “credible representor” in its view.
In a 273-page report that was released on Thursday (20 Sep), the Committee, which is chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong, alleged that Dr Thum had “misrepresented” his academic credentials, and had “provided several different descriptions of his position”.
Dr Thum’s methodology in presenting historical evidence was also criticised by the Committee for what it has perceived as cherry-picking.
A similar dispute regarding Dr Thum’s credentials took place previously in a public hearing in March that lasted for almost six hours, during which K Shanmugam had heavily scrutinised Dr Thum’s submission.
In his written submission to the Committee, Dr Thum had was accused of suggesting that the Government was the primary vector of “fake news”.
Dr Thum said: “‘Fake news’ is not a problem in Singapore — with one major exception: the People’s Action Party government has, historically, spread ‘fake news’ for narrow party-political gain.”
Citing examples of the numerous detentions sanctioned by the PAP government under the Internal Security Act, he noted: “Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, (PAP) politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state,” he noted.
“Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie. Operation Coldstore was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the government,” he added.
Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, alleged during the hearing that Dr Thum had “breached a number of rules” with regard to academic historical processes, and that the academician had “fallen completely through the standard of an objective historian”.
“Your views on communism, Operation Coldstore – which you have been repeating at multiple fora – are contradicted by the most reliable evidence.
“It ignores evidence which you don’t like, you ignore and suppress what is inconvenient and in your writings, you present quite an untrue picture,” Mr Shanmugam said.
Dr Thum, however, refuted Mr Shanmugam’s approach, which he had suggested to be rigid: “I’m an academic, Mr Shanmugam – nuance is very important to the truth.”
It was also noted that the Select Committee, in their opinion on Dr Thum’s submission, had ignored the multiple recommendations made by the academic, such as increasing media literacy education amongst Singaporeans to teach the public how to become more critical and aware of the information they are exposed to, and the repeal of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act 1974 to enable the creation of more diverse news sources in the Republic, among others.