PSP calls for Courts to be the one to declare news as falsehood under POFMA

(Image from Progress Party Singapore / Facebook)

On Tuesday (10 December) the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) calls for Courts of Singapore to be the authority that declares a piece of news as falsehood and impose corresponding penalties to ensure that POFMA is in line with the value of ‘independence’.

In a statement on their website, PSP emphasised that the party is founded on the tenets of transparency, independence and accountability which it feels the current POFMA “falls short”.

“Currently, POFMA empowers the Minister to declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards,” said PSP.

“This does not measure up to the standards of Transparency and Accountability. And where the news involves the Government, it also fails the standard of Independence,” it added.

The party went on to outline three scenarios from which online falsehoods can arise starting with guesses made based on limited information due to facts, statistics and data not made readily available and accessible to the public. The second scenario involves negligence or failure of purveyors of news to fact-check; while the third involved the purveyor intentionally setting out to mislead their audience with deliberate falsehoods.

Agreeing that the government needs to act speedily in curbing the viral spread of fake news, PSP voiced its support on the need for Ministers to be empowered to demand that news purveyors post a link to a site which includes facts from the government in order “to swiftly stop the spread of misinformation”.

However, the party also said: “to declare any news as falsehood and to impose any penalties thereof, PSP is of the view that it should be done by the Courts of Singapore for Independence.”

The statement goes on to explain that the Courts have an established system and precedence for determining falsehoods given that it handles cases like fraud. This would ensure transparency and accountability, said PSP.

Currently, any minister is empowered to declare a statement as misleading or a false statement of fact and issue a correction order or takedown for that particular statement. The order can be challenged by the affected party by first appealing to the minister who issued the order. Once the minister rejects the appeal, the challenge can be brought to the High Court to either vary or cancel the order.

According to the provisions in POFMA, the High Court can only decide whether the statement declared by a minister to be false is, in fact, false. The Court cannot judge on whether the minister’s original declaration and/or order of removal was made ‘in the public interest’ as the law outlines.

PSP’s Brad Bowyer the first to be POFMA’d

On 25 November, PSP member Brad Bowyer was the first to receive a correction order issued under POFMA for a post he made on Facebook about government finances relating to investments. The order was issued upon the direction of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat.

Complying with the order, Mr Bowyer included a statement to the top of the offending post to say that the post ‘contains false statement of facts’ and provided a link which led to the government’s ‘factually’ website which states the administration’s position on the statements Mr Bowyer made.

Following the correction, Mr Bowyer published another Facebook post explaining why he complied with the order. He said, “I have no problem in following that request as I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary.”

He added that he does his best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinions based on the details he has access to, saying that he does not have anything against being asked to make corrections or clarifications, especially in the public interest.

He then went on to express his personal feelings about POFMA, stating that he felt it was rushed through parliament and poses many opportunities for misuse despite the government’s assurances that that won’t happen.

Mr Bowyer said, “Indeed they said as much at the time in their public statements and I take them their word although I still feel the situation was not that urgent that a more considered piece of legislation could have been enacted after more vigorous debate and evaluation.”

He then added, “This will in no way impact my resolve or desire to do what I feel I can to improve our social and political discourse and how Singapore is governed and develops both now and in the future.”

“A responsible and vocal citizenry is as much a vital part of our democratic nation as is a responsible and listening government,” concluded Mr Bowyer.

A few days later after a second correction order was issued under POFMA – this time to States Times Review editor Alex Tan – Mr Bowyer noted that while he did comply with the correction order, that doesn’t mean he won’t appeal. He said, “Currently, I am still studying the final implementation of the legislation and its processes and so reserve my right to appeal at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.”

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