Singapore—After articles about POFMA, (which is legislation put in place to battle online falsehoods), were published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and Bloomberg late last month, the Government has responded by refuting certain points that were made in those publications.
On Tuesday (Dec 31) the SCMP published a letter written by Consul-General to Hong Kong, Ms Foo Teow Lee, in response to the article Singapore’s fake news law: protecting the truth, or restricting free debate?, which was published in SCMP on December 21.
She referred to “accusations” in the article of the Government using POFMA to curtail freedom of speech.
Ms Foo wrote, “This is untrue. In every case where we have issued correction notices to online posts, we have detailed the falsehoods as well as the public interest involved. Far from being matters of ‘interpretation of statistics’ or ‘opinion of facts’, the statements corrected were all demonstrably factually false.”
She added, “We have not restricted free debate. None of the statements subjected to Pofma directions has been removed. Surely, giving readers more information, and enabling them to decide for themselves where the truth lies, can only enhance public debate.”
The Consul-General also made the point that the article had quoted the head of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Dr Chee Soon Juan, as saying, that SDP would“go to court if we have to.”
And yet, none of the people who have gotten correction orders from the Government (under POFMA) have appealed the orders, and neither have they gone to court over them, which would, Ms Foo wrote, “settle simply and conclusively, whether the posts are opinions or facts and, if they are facts, whether they are true or false.”
Ms Foo ended her letter by writing, “The Singapore government never shies away from answering foreign critics. They can say what they please. All we insist upon is the right of reply. That same logic applies to POFMA.”
Straitstimes.com reports that according to a statement from Ms Ho Hwei Ling, the press secretary to Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, the three different versions of the article from Bloomberg claimed that the Government uses POFMA (the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) to clamp down on dissent and free expression.
She refuted this by pointing out that POFMA is used for issuing correction directions, which lets the public access original posts and their corresponding corrections, in order to give them the opportunity to decide on what is accurate. She emphasized that “No information or view has been suppressed.”
Bloomberg published an article entitled Singapore goes on global offensive to defend ‘fake news’ law, which was reproduced in several news outlets in different countries. According to Ms Ho, the article was critical of how the Government has responded to how foreign media has covered POFMA.
She said,”We have never shied from answering our foreign critics on any issue. They can say what they please. All we insist upon is the right of reply.”
In the United Kingdom, Singapore’s High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia wrote a letter to the editor of the Economist, pointing out that one of its articles had misrepresented POFMA; and in the United States, Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, as well as Ministry of Communications and Information director for information policy Bernard Toh, have also sought to clarify an article in the Washington Post that they said was ‘perpetuating false allegations.’ -/TISG