SINGAPORE: A recent statement by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has made "several untrue claims" about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said on Wednesday (Dec 11).
Last month, POFMA was utilised for the first time, directing PSP member Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post he made that, among other things, questioned the independence of Temasek and GIC.
Under POFMA, a minister has the power to declare that an article contains falsehoods and issue directions, including asking for a correction to be carried. This direction can be challenged in court.
On Tuesday, PSP said in a statement that the Act "falls short" of the values of transparency, independence and accountability. It claimed POFMA could be used by ministers to declare a piece of news to be "falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards".
“This is untrue. The law explicitly requires ministers to state why the specified statements are false,” MCI and MinLaw said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
“There are precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. When POFMA was used recently, the reasons why the statements were false were explained clearly.
"Significantly, PSP and Mr Brad Bowyer do not deny that his post contained falsehoods."
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The ministries said POFMA can only be used when "clear criteria" are met, and that it sets a "high standard of accountability".
An "aggrieved person" can also challenge a minister's direction in court within days, the post clarified.
PSP’s claim that ministers can "impose any penalties" they wish is also untrue, the ministries said.
"Ministers can give directions, for example, requiring a correction to be posted. But if the direction is not complied with, only the courts can impose penalties, in accordance with due process and established legal principles," the ministries added.
READERS CAN MAKE UP OWN MINDS
A person who posts a falsehood but subsequently posts a correction will face no penalties, MCI and MinLaw said, adding that the courts will decide if there was any criminal conduct and the penalties to be imposed.
“In this case, Mr Brad Bowyer (who posted the falsehoods), subsequently posted a short note, as required by law, to say that the Government had put up a clarification on what he had said.
“His original post remains accessible, along with a link to the Government’s correction/clarification of his statement. Readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth.”
The ministries also criticised an image posted by PSP that showed people’s mouths being taped.
"How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read," MCI and MinLaw said.
"His rights to free speech remain unaffected. He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post.
"Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech."