Lim Tean, Indranee Rajah

SINGAPORE — Political party, Peoples Voice (PV) says that People’s Action Party (PAP) should get rid of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) if the party is serious about having a balanced discussion on social media.

The statement issued by its party chief, Lim Tean, on Saturday was made in response to the speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance, who urged Singaporeans to learn to engage in balanced and respectful conversations on social media instead of shutting down opposing views.

Ms Indranee was speaking at the opening ceremony of the annual OnePeople.sg Model United Nations conference at Victoria School on Thursday (8 Dec).

She added, “This can lead to fractures in society over time, as we perceive one another and form identities along the lines of what makes us different, rather than what is common,”

Ms Indranee also said that seeking common ground across differences will help create an environment where Singaporeans can debate constructively and understand complexities, as well as appreciate the range of perspectives on contested issues.

However, when young people see incidents of racism or prejudice, they should take a stand and speak up, added Ms Indranee.

4G Minister Saying Meaningless Words

Mr Lim, in the party’s statement, wrote, “Singaporeans’ disgust with the PAP’s use of POFMA to clamp down on dissenting views has led to Indranee Rajah making the laughable statement that there should be balanced discussions in social media.”

He asked, “When has her Party ever practised what she is preaching?” and added that if the PAP are serious about Ms Indranee’s statement, they must first get rid of POFMA.

POFMA was passed in Parliament and came into force on 2 October 2019.

The controversial law has been heavily criticised both locally and internationally by opposition politicians, human rights groups, journalists and academics.

The law enables Singapore Ministers to issue Correction or Stop Communication Directions to a person or entity on the publication of information that the Ministers deem false statements of facts.

Non-compliance with directions will result in heavy fines of up to S$20,000 and or imprisonment of 12 months for individuals and fines of up to $500,000 for entities.

Mr Lim further criticised POFMA as the most useless law any country has come up with.

If PAP does not remove the law, it is another example of a so-called “4G” minister saying a load of meaningless words, claims Mr Lim.

“By the way, Singaporeans are accustomed to that by now.”

Unfortunate Convergence Or Coincidence On Use Of POFMA

Former Nominated Member of Parliament, Assoc Prof Walter Theseira had previously asked Mr S Iswaran, former Minister of Communication and Information in 2020, whether the Minister could make clear that it is virality, the damage that the statement causes that matters for a POFMA direction to be issued and not who says it.

“Otherwise, I am very worried that it might look as if the Government is setting up speed traps where perhaps Opposition politicians drive but not elsewhere. And that is a real concern, I think.” said the Assoc Prof.

Mr Iswaran said, “As I have explained very clearly the process, and I think this was widely convassed during the debate on the Second Reading, the focus is on the fact, or falsehood as it were, in accordance, and do we have the existing legislation that backs that assessment and secondly, whether there is a public interest concerned that merits action. That is a judgement made by the Minister, the domain Minister advised by his officials.”

Therefore, the answer is, and I think what the Member is alluding to, is the fact that the first few POFMA actions appear to have been issued against individuals who are either politicians or affiliated with political party or political parties.”

“I would say that that is a convergence, some might say unfortunate convergence or coincidence, but also indicate to a certain pattern of communication that exists out there.”

“But whatever the case may be that is the situation today but it does not mean that that is going to be the situation going forward. Because ultimately whether there is a falsehood, there is a public threshold and if so, then what is the appropriate course of action.”

However, two years since Mr Iswaran delivered his speech, the unfortunate convergence or coincidence of the POFMA directions might still be taking place.

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