23 April 2019 — Gender-equality group AWARE today released a statement on the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), announced earlier this month. This statement follows the group’s February 2018 submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.
Echoing the opposition and caution sounded by other groups before it, AWARE detailed how the Act could stymie the research and advocacy work carried out by itself and other non-governmental organisations in Singapore.
Applying the Bill to its practical work championing the rights of those marginalised by gender, and economic circumstance, AWARE pointed out that the information it handles in its research and support services is often complex and nuanced, not easy to break down for truths or falsehoods. Further—as in sexual assault cases, for example—information disclosed to AWARE may sometimes differ from information reported to officials. For these reasons, AWARE calls into question the Act’s positioning of the government and its functionaries as sole authorities on truth.
“It is AWARE’s responsibility to accurately report the views and experiences of our constituents—even when they reflect negatively on government policies and diverge from official accounts,” said Corinna Lim, executive director of AWARE. “We can do that best when assured of freedom of speech, and our right to offer alternative perspectives. POFMA, if passed, would hamper our means of accessing and presenting valuable information to the public, and I believe society would be poorer for it.”
AWARE also notes that the government already possesses many of the powers it seeks to fight the spread of misinformation: with the Public Order Act, the Telecommunications Act and the IMDA.
If the law does pass, however, AWARE suggests some key amendments to reduce the potential restrictions on NGOs:
1. Revising the definition of “statement of fact”
2. Revising the definition of “false” to ensure that context is accounted for
3. Limiting the definition of public interest to exclude diminution of public confidence in the government
4. Increasing the court’s role as arbiter of POFMA and shifting the onus of proof away from the accused and onto the accuser
Read AWARE’s full statement on POFMA below