The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office on Wednesday (13 May) issued correction directions (CD) to historian Thum Ping Tjin and Southeast Asian journalism portal New Naratif on a YouTube video commenting on the scope of POFMA.
The POFMA Office in a statement today said that it was instructed by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to issue the CDs.
The offending video, titled “The Show with PJ Thum – Ep 8 – How bad laws are created and abused in Singapore (A POFMA case study)”, was posted on New Naratif’s YouTube page, Facebook page and webpage, and Dr Thum’s Facebook page.
Government website Factually, in an article on Gov.sg today, reiterated that POFMA “applies only to factual statements that are false”.
“It does not apply to opinions. If there is a dispute as to whether the statement is false, or whether it is a statement of fact, the dispute can be determined by the Courts.
“Further, the whole statement will not be considered false, automatically, just because “one bit” of it is false,” the statement read.
This, said the Government, is contrary to the claim made in the video that “every statement can be considered false in some way” because the definition of falsehood “is so broad” under POFMA.
“POFMA has been used to deal specifically with falsehoods, which suggested that the Government is mismanaging public funds, abusing police power, favouring foreigners over locals, and carrying out judicial executions in an unlawful, brutal manner, among others.
“The consequences that such falsehoods about public institutions can have on society were extensively set out in the Government’s Green Paper, the Select Committee Report, and the Second Reading speech for POFMA.
“POFMA has enabled these falsehoods to be corrected in a targeted manner. Powers under POFMA are in fact narrower than pre-existing legislation dealing with falsehoods,” the Government added.
Govt: Dr Thum’s claim that parties have no legal recourse when subject to POFMA CDs false, Courts have “judicial oversight”
Addressing Dr Thum’s claim that parties subject to a POFMA direction have no legal recourse if they wish to contest possible instances of abuse of power in relation to the Act, the Government said that “the Courts have judicial oversight of the exercise of powers under POFMA”.
“It is therefore untrue to say that there can be no recourse in law when there has been abuse of POFMA powers,” said the Government.
Dr Thum, it added, “also misleadingly uses a video clip of an interview with the Minister for Law to suggest that POFMA can be easily abused by a future government” by omitting part of Mr Shanmugam’s answer on how courts there is a “clear oversight mechanism” of powers by the courts under POFMA.
Countering Dr Thum’s claim on how judicial process takes a long time in challenging POFMA orders, the Government said that the Act’s Rules “provide for the High Court hearing to be held 6 working days after the originating summons is filed in court”.
It added that such hearings are “expedited, compared with the usual process which could take some months”.
The court, said the Government, also does not impose any hearing fees for the first three days and has the authority to waive any further fees.
“For individuals, filing fees are lower than ordinary court fees,” said the Government.
“The Government had also explained that how long the hearing takes, and how long the Courts take to decide, are matters for the Courts.
“Parliament and the Executive cannot intervene in those,” the Government stressed.
Readers can compare original article and correction, decide on the matter themselves contrary to claims of censorship: Govt, on CDs
The Government in its statement today also highlighted that where CDs have been issued, “the original article remains completely accessible”.
“Readers can read for themselves both the primary piece and the correction, and make up their own minds.
“Recipients of POFMA directions who put up the Correction Notice can continue to put forward their point of view on the issue, and their original articles also remain available for anyone to read,” it added.
Similarly, Dr Thum’s YouTube video in question “can remain accessible to the public”.
“That gives the lie to any suggestion of censorship. It will allow viewers to view his video, and this statement, and reach their own conclusions,” said the Government.
Govt: POFMA only targets falsehoods, not opinions or true facts; Dr Thum never subjected to POFMA CDs before despite frequently publishing dissenting opinions against Govt
The Government also rejected Dr Thum’s claim that POFMA renders all dissenting opinions against the Government illegal.
It stressed that POFMA does not cover opinions or true facts.
“It is untrue (and absurd) to say that POFMA makes all criticisms of the Government illegal.
“Before and after POFMA came into force, there have been criticisms of the Government (including by Mr Thum), on a regular basis. They have not been the subject of POFMA,” the statement read, referring to the historian’s claims on Operation Spectrum.
Citing Dr Thum’s statement in the YouTube video that “past PAP governments have spread misinformation to silence critics, like in Operation Spectrum”, the Government noted that “these are his opinions” and are thus not liable to a POFMA Direction.
What was not indicated in the Government’s clarification, however, is that Dr Thum — in the video — began his statement on Operation Spectrum with “We know for a fact …”.
The historian in his YouTube video also made the claim that the Government had tried to apply the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act retroactively in Harvard economics professor Li Shengwu’s contempt of court case.
“Contrary to what Mr Thum said, the Government did not try to apply the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act retroactively in Mr Li Shengwu’s case. The substantive law applicable to the case was common law contempt, and not the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act,” said the Government.
Given that Dr Thum’s claims above appeared to be presented as statements of fact rather than opinions, it is puzzling as to why CDs were not issued against such statements while only those concerning the scope of POFMA were.