Letting the courts decide on matters concerning deliberate falsehoods “in line with existing practices” before POFMA: PSP responds to MCI

(Image from Progress Party Singapore / Facebook)

Leaving the matter of determining the question of deliberate falsehoods to the courts is “logical and in line with the existing practice” even prior to the enactment of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), said the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on Mon (16 Dec).

In a reply to the Ministry of Information and Communication (MCI) comment on the party’s 10 Dec Facebook post, PSP said that taking a judicial approach in handling the spread of falsehoods “ensures greater transparency, independence and accountability”.

The party also argued that POFMA “should be used as a last resort”, especially in the process of making Singapore “a kinder and more gracious society, not a more litigious one”.

“We believe most media content providers will take remedial actions on their own accord upon being provided with the right facts. POFMA should be reserved for only those who repeatedly and deliberately perpetuate falsehoods,” PSP wrote.

It noted that part of its statement reads “Currently, POFMA empowers the Minister to declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards.”

PSP also argued that if it is true that MCI is saying that Ministers — who have the authority to issue Correction Directions under POFMA — are guided by legal precedents, then POFMA should also provide that “Ministers must be guided by legal precedents in the determination of falsehood”.

“If not, it raises questions like (i) are legal precedents binding on the Ministers? (ii) do Ministers act on the advice of people with similar qualifications, training and experience as judges, so as to uphold the same standards?

“Another criterion could be that Ministers must act on the advice of officers with specified qualifications,” added the Party.

PSP also refuted claims made by MCI in the latter’s comment, one of which is the claim that “PSP says that Ministers can impose any penalties they wish”.

“That is not true. Our statement had stated simply “…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.”

“We do not claim that “Ministers can impose any penalties” nor is it our intention to imply such. Imposing penalties are the follow up actions after the determination of falsehood, and thus have been included purely for completeness,” said PSP.

“We appreciate MCI reaching out to us via FB and for this dialogue to occur. It would be to the benefit of Singapore for all organisations not to adopt an adversarial approach, and instead reach for a better outcome via dialogues and debates,” concluded the party.

Previously on 11 Dec, MCI had posted the same statement on its Facebook page, clarifying its stance on what it deemed to be “several untrue claims about POFMA” by PSP.

The Ministry, among other point, alleged that PSP had claimed that Ministers are able to wield POFMA to “declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without any justification”.

“This is untrue. The law explicitly requires Ministers to state why the specified statements are false. There are precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. When POFMA was used recently, the reasons why the statements were false were explained clearly,” wrote MCI.

Touching on the graphic posted by PSP depicting mouths being taped, MCI questioned: “How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read. His rights to free speech remain unaffected.

“He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post. Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech,” added the Ministry.

The POFMA Office issued its first CD to PSP member Brad Bowyer on 25 Nov regarding a Facebook post he made, in which he questioned the independence of Temasek Holdings and GIC.

Mr Bowyer was instructed to include a statement on his post saying that it contained inaccuracies, and to include a link to the government’s ‘Factually’ website. The issuance of the CD for Mr Bowyer was instructed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In its reply on Fri, PSP stressed that it “explicitly supported empowering the Minister to demand a link to a clarification statement”.

“Therefore, it would not make sense for us to be implying through the graphics that requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement curtails free speech,” added the party.

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