Singapore blocks access to Asia Sentinel following its failure to comply with the placement requirement for the POFMA correction notice

Singapore blocks access to Asia Sentinel following its failure to comply with the placement requirement for the POFMA correction notice

The Asia Sentinel, an online news publication, has been denied access in Singapore after it failed to meet the correction notice requirements stipulated by the country’s fake news law.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) issued a directive to the Infocomm Media Development Authority on Friday to issue access-blocking orders, thus requiring Internet service providers to disable Singaporean users’ access to the site where the alleged falsehoods were published.

This MCI directive came almost four hours following an earlier statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), threatening to enforce further action against the Asia Sentinel.

The dispute originated on 26 May when the MHA issued a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) regarding an Asia Sentinel article, titled “Singapore Kills A Chicken To Scare The Monkeys.”

The MHA claimed the article, published two days earlier, contained false statements concerning several issues.

The contested article included an interview with Andy Wong Ming Jun, a critic of Singapore’s management of KTV lounges during the 2021 COVID-19 crisis, and drew comparisons between Wong’s experiences and those of human rights lawyer M Ravi and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang.

In response, Asia Sentinel published an editor’s note stating that, despite receiving the MHA’s correction direction, it stood by its story.

In a statement on Monday (29 May), Asia Sentinel defended its report of an alleged threat made by an unnamed official at the Embassy of the Government of Singapore to end Nikkei Inc.’s business operations in Singapore, a claim which the Singapore government disputes. Asia Sentinel stated it had verified the threat from two anonymous sources.

Additionally, Asia Sentinel upheld its position that M Ravi’s suspension from practicing law was due to his criticism of the Singapore government’s prosecution of his client, Gobi Avedian, a stance countered by the Singapore government.

The news outlet cited an Amnesty International press statement asserting that Ravi’s suspension appears timed to stifle criticism of the death penalty.

The media outlet also stands by its report that Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern were compelled to leave Singapore out of fear for their safety, allegedly due to government action threatened against them over a family dispute with the Prime Minister.

Difference in where POFMA office wants the correction notice to be posted

The publication posted a correction notice detailing the alleged false statements and provided a link to the government fact-checking website, Factually.

However, the Asia Sentinel fell afoul of the MHA’s requirements by placing the correction notices lower on the page rather than at the top of the article and the main page, as stipulated by the Pofma.

Asia Sentinel, which is domiciled in California, United States, said in an article on Monday that it is not subject to demands or threats of the Singapore Government.

MHA reiterated that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act’s primary tool to rectify falsehoods is a correction notice, which should be placed in proximity to the original post with a link to the government’s clarification.

MHA said similar requirements have been imposed on other correction direction recipients who complied.

“If Asia Sentinel truly believes in free speech, it should be happy for its readers to read both the article and the correction notice, and make up their own minds which is true,” added the ministry.

The conflict stems from Asia Sentinel’s interpretation of Pofma’s correction notice placement.

While the website published the notice as a post on the main page, the POFMA office requires it to be posted as a stand-alone wording at the top of the website.

Similarly, for the disputed article, the correction notice is expected to be placed at the top. Currently, the editor’s note precedes the correction notice, a detail that the POFMA office is objecting to.

In its statement, the MCI said, “The correction direction issued to Asia Sentinel had required the facts to be juxtaposed against the falsehoods, so that end users in Singapore can read both versions and draw their own conclusions.”

The access-blocking orders will be revoked should Asia Sentinel comply with the full requirements of the correction direction, MCI added.

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