Southeast Asian journalism platform New Naratif on Friday (15 May) said that it has complied with a correction direction (CD) issued on its website and social media platforms for a YouTube video commenting on the scope of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
The decision to comply, it said, was made out of the knowledge that the “failure to comply without this Direction without reasonable excuse is an offense under Section 15 of the Act”.
In a statement today, however, New Naratif said that it will be contesting the CD “through appropriate channels”.
“As stated in our video, we are of the opinion that the extremely broad definitions of falsehoods and public interest in POFMA allows, in theory, any criticism of the Singapore Government to be considered false.
“While the government assures us that criticism is acceptable in Singapore, with regret, we do not believe it,” said New Naratif.
The platform opined that POFMA CDs “attempt to intimidate independent media and an abuse of the law” and are “designed to strike fear into the hearts of the government’s critics and citizenry”.
“We condemn what is, in our opinion, an unjust and undemocratic law and call for the POFMA law to be revised in consultation with the general public,” it added.
New Naratif also reiterated its invitation to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam for a debate on the impact of POFMA on freedom of expression in Singapore.
The POFMA Office on Wednesday (13 May) also issued a CD to historian Thum Ping Tjin.
In a statement on Wednesday, it said that it was instructed by Mr 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 on Wednesday, 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: 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.