SINGAPORE: Law Minister K Shanmugam has instructed a correction order be issued to New Naratif and Mr Thum Ping Tjin over a YouTube video about statements made on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
The YouTube video, published last Friday, contains "several false and misleading statements", said the POFMA Office on Wednesday (May 13).
"Among other inaccurate claims, the video contained false statements about the scope of POFMA, when and how it can be used, and the role of the courts," said the office.
This is the first time a correction direction has been issued over a YouTube video under POFMA.
Under the correction directions, a correction notice must be placed alongside the video, said the Ministry of Law.
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"FALSE AND MISLEADING STATEMENTS"
The Government website Factually listed the following as "false and misleading statements" in the YouTube video published by Mr Thum on May 8:
- Under POFMA, "every statement can be considered false in some way"
- POFMA makes all criticism of the Government illegal
- There is no recourse in law for the court to overturn a direction if it is an abuse of power under POFMA
- POMFA "means that the truth will be whatever the party says it is"
Factually said POFMA applies only to factual statements that are false and that it does not apply to opinions, including criticisms.
"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," it said.
Factually added the whole statement will not be considered false just because "one bit" of it is false and that the Courts have developed criteria for assessing falsehoods.
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"It is untrue to say that 'every statement can be considered false in some way' and be subject to POFMA".
Factually said it is "untrue (and absurd)" to say POFMA makes all criticisms of the Government illegal, as there had been previous cases of the Government being criticised and these have not been subjected to POFMA.
The Courts also 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."
Factually said it is also false for Mr Thum to assert that POFMA "means that the truth will be whatever the party says it is".
The Government also took issue with Mr Thum's claims about POFMA being used against the "interpretation of statistical data" by the Singapore Democratic Party.
"The issue was not about interpretation of statistics. The SDP had made a direct, false statement. SDP challenged the POFMA directions against it, and the High Court held that there was no basis for the directions to be set aside, because SDP had made false statements of fact," Factually said.
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Contrary to Mr Thum's claims, Factually said people are free to criticise and disagree with the Government.
It said POFMA has been used to deal specifically with falsehoods and in a targeted manner.
Factually added that the original article that has been issued a correction direction under POFMA 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," said Factually.
In the 18 POFMA cases so far, 11 were COVID-19 related falsehoods. In seven of the cases, correction directions were issued within 24 hours, sometimes in a matter of hours.
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Mr Thum had also said that the court process takes a long time.
To this, the Government said POFMA's rules allow for a process that normally takes months to be cut to just six working days. It also highlighted the lower court fees for individuals.
The Government said the duration of the hearing and the Courts' decisions are matters for the Courts. The Parliament and the Executive cannot intervene in those.
Factually also said Mr Thum misleadingly used a video clip of an interview with Law Minister K Shanmugam to suggest that POFMA can be abused by a future government, and that the first part to the minister's answer had been omitted.
The Government also did not try to apply the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act retroactively in Mr Li Shengwu's case, Factually said, contrary to what Mr Thum had said.
"The substantive law applicable to the case was common law contempt, and not the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act," it said.
Factually added that Mr Thum's claims about previous PAP governments spreading information to silence critics are his opinions, and not subjected to a POFMA direction.
"Similar claims have been refuted elsewhere."
Public clarifications on POFMA have also been put out by the Government, said Factually. However, Mr Thum had repeated falsehoods and misleading statements similar to those in this case on multiple occasions.
"He is clearly aware of what the true scope of POFMA is: when a viewer asked whether his criticisms of the government may be false, he shrugged off the suggestion ... meaning, his opinions cannot be the subject of POFMA.
"Thus his statements that POFMA can be used in respect of all statements, are entirely cynical, and he obviously knows that they are untrue," it said.
Under the correction directions issued to Mr Thum and New Naratif, the video published on May 8 can remain accessible to the public, Factually said.
"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."