The High Court has dismissed the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) appeal to set aside Correction Directions issued against it under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).
Calling the party’s statements “false in the face of the statistical evidence against them”, Justice Ang Cheng Hock, in his judgment released on Wednesday (Feb 5), said that it had not challenged the accuracy of the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) statistics, but instead “sought to critique it on other grounds” that he did not find convincing.
In December last year, the SDP had published a sponsored Facebook post with a graphic showing plunging local PMET employment. This post and an earlier social media post published on Nov 30 linked to an article on the SDP website which asserted that its Singaporeans First policy proposal came “amidst a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs getting retrenched”.
In court, arguing on behalf of the A-G, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair and State Counsel Fu Qijing and Amanda Sum pointed to data from 2015 to 2018 to show that the number of local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) employed has been steadily increasing.
In response, the SDP, represented by Secretary-General Dr Chee Soon Juan, accused the A-G of “cherry-picking” its statistics, and instead used numbers from 2010 to 2018 to show a statistical increase in retrenched local PMETs.
Justice Ang said the party’s arguments were “problematic”, and added that there was nothing in its article that “offers any hint that the ‘rising proportion of PMET retrenchment’ should be understood with such a long time frame, rather than by reference to the most recent period of time”.
Justice Ang said the party’s 2010 starting point was also “somewhat arbitrary”.
“I am of the view that the A-G’s characterisation of the relevant time frame is more consistent with what could be reasonably interpreted from the relevant part of the SDP article,” he added.
In his judgement, he emphasised that the role of the court in this context was to interpret the legislation, not to comment or adjudicate on the desirability of particular policies.
“In that sense, the court is constrained by what the legislation compels. Where there is doubt as to the precise ambit and contours of the legislation, the ordinary rules of statutory interpretation apply,” he added.
What initially happened
On Dec 2, the SDP published a sponsored Facebook post with a graphic showing plunging local PMET employment.
Refuting the statement that local PMET retrenchment was rising, the Ministry of Manpower said the number of retrenched local PMETs and the number of local PMETs retrenched as a share of all local PMET employees had declined since 2015. It also said that the graphic the SDP published was wrong and that the ministry’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey showed that local PMET employment had risen steadily since 2015.
On Dec 16, while the SDP complied with the Pofma Correction Directions and posted correction notices on its article and earlier Facebook posts, it said that the conclusions that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had come to were “disputable”.
On Jan 3, the SDP applied to the ministry to have the corrections cancelled, which Mrs Teo rejected.
The SDP then filed its court challenge on Jan 8. /TISG