As the debate around the proposed fake news bill continuous, many experts have weighed in on the matter – from lawyers to ministers activists, journalists, and historians.
Many critics of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act argue that provisions in the bills are loosely defined and that it gives ministers broad powers to declare what is an isn’t a falsehood.
Media professor Cherian George shared that the provisions need to be better defined while Senior Lecturer and Professor of Practice at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Donald Low who said that the introduction of POFMA will change the nature of public discourse and debate in Singapore. Prof Low said, “Complexity defies simple binary categories of truth and falsehood. Facts are also often contested and contestable.”
Another critic is historian Thum Ping Tjin, who has voiced similar concerns about the bill granting ‘unprecedented and sweeping powers’ to ministers to act against anything they deem to be false and against the public interest.
In an article on New Naratif co-authored by Dr Thum and freelance journalist Kristen Han, the duo wrote that differentiating between a statement of ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ can be very difficult.
They also highlighted a provision in the bill which states that ‘a statement is false is it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears’. This, they say is ‘vague at best’.
Following this article, One Facebook group called Singapore Matters has slammed Dr Thum for his criticism, specifically when he said that it would be ‘impossible to include every fact about any issue’.
Singapore Matters concluded that Dr Thum has basically confessed, through his own conclusion, that ‘he does not include every fact in his writings’ and that ‘virtually everything that he writes is misleading’.
This is quite hypocritical of Singapore matters, considering their quote of what Dr Thum said was incomplete. In full, this is what was written:
Equally, your post could be completely accurate and factual, but could be deemed “misleading” because you omitted a fact (accidentally or otherwise). Given that it is impossible to include every single fact about any issue (especially if you are writing to a word limit), this guarantees that virtually anything can be deemed “misleading”.
Clearly, Singapore Matters themselves have mislead their followers on what Dr Thum actually said. Their post proves Dr Thum’s point – that virtually any statement can be deemed as misleading. In this case, Singapore Matters failed to completely state what Dr Thum said which is that it is impossible to include every single fact about any issue, especially if you are writing to a word limit.
Comments on the post have pointed out this hypocrisy as well, highlighting how the SM post has taken Dr Thum’s quote out of context and presented it in a misleading way:
At the end of the day, isn’t this what POFMA seeks to address? The misquotes that misconstrues the facts?
Also, Clause 61 of POFMA provides ministers the power to grant exemptions from the bill:
So it’s also worth questioning if pages like these, that attack or post misleading statements about opponents of the PAP, will be spared from the powers of POFMA?