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National Times Singapore issued correction direction over false POFMA statements in Facebook post

 National Times Singapore issued correction direction over false POFMA statements in Facebook post

A screengrab of the National Times Singapore Facebook page, May 27, 2020.

SINGAPORE: Law Minister K Shanmugam has instructed that a correction direction be issued to the National Times Singapore Facebook page about statements made on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

A targeted correction direction has also been issued to Facebook, which requires the social media platform to communicate a correction notice to all users in Singapore who access the falsehood through its service, said the Ministry of Law on Wednesday (May 27).

The government website Factually listed the following as "false and misleading statements" in the National Times Singapore Facebook post, which was published on May 15: 

  • “Every criticism has been outlawed by the Singapore government through its new POFMA legislation, where the politicians in power get to decide what is truth.”
  • The Minister for Law had issued a POFMA direction to ban a video.

READ: POFMA: Singapore States Times, Alex Tan's Facebook pages to be Declared Online Locations after COVID-19 'falsehoods'

Factually said it is not true that “politicians in power get to decide what is truth” under POFMA as the Act applies only to factual statements that are false and 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.

“The courts have, over centuries, developed criteria for assessing falsehoods, and will be the final arbiters of whether there is a falsehood under POFMA,” it said.

For the reasons above, said Factually, it is therefore also "untrue to say that POFMA outlaws every criticism" of the Government.

“Before and after POFMA came into force, the Government has been regularly criticised on various matters. These criticisms have not been subject to POFMA.”

It added that the Law Minister has not issued a POFMA direction to ban any video. The video subject to an earlier POFMA direction remains accessible to the public.

The Ministry of Law said that the National Times Singapore Facebook page is run by Mr Alex Tan, "who has repeatedly and deliberately conveyed falsehoods affecting the public interest".

"This is the seventh occasion in which correction directions under POFMA have been issued against a Facebook page operated by him," said the ministry.

Factually also said that Mr Tan lives in Australia and claims to be an Australian citizen, and repeated falsehoods that were subject to an earlier POFMA direction.

“In light of that earlier direction, Mr Tan must be aware that these statements are false and tend to undermine the public interest. Yet, he continues to publish falsehoods that distort the public’s understanding of the law and how it has been implemented.”

Factually added that Mr Tan made “serious and baseless allegations” about Singapore’s judiciary being biased. These allegations have been brought to the attention of the Attorney-General’s Chambers for assessment on whether the allegations are in contempt of court, it added.

Factually also said Mr Tan made untrue claims about  Mr Shanmugam facing criminal charges in Malaysia and that a Malaysian court has made an order against the minister.

READ: Government orders Facebook to block Singapore users' access to Singapore States Times, Alex Tan's pages

Mr Tan was previously issued POFMA correction directions in relation to falsehoods conveyed on six separate occasions on his previous Facebook pages, the States Times Review and Singapore States Times.

The majority of these falsehoods were related to the COVID-19 situation, including falsehoods suggesting that Singapore had run out of face masks and that there was an underreporting of COVID-19 cases by the Government.

Mr Tan also previously claimed that there were numerous infections because schools were not closed earlier and that foreign workers were not getting paid during quarantine, said Factually.

“This demonstrates a clear pattern of deliberately spreading falsehoods which affect the public interest,” said Factually.

“Mr Tan was bound to comply with these correction directions, but has refused to comply. His previous pages were declared as declared online locations (Section 32 of POFMA) and subject to access disabling orders (Section 34 of POFMA) after his repeated non-compliance with the law.

“Mr Tan remains recalcitrant, and continues to purvey falsehoods, on his latest page,” Factually said.

Source: CNA/zl

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