The Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) released a joint statement on Sunday evening (6 Oct) accusing The Online Citizen (TOC) of publishing falsehoods in yet another article and Facebook post.
The article, written by a contributor Ghui and published on Saturday (5 Oct), suggested that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) “could potentially allow a Minister to deem a piece of news as “fake” as a means to silence a critic”.
That same day, TOC editor Terry Xu published a post on his personal Facebook page on what he believes the POFMA appeal timeframe could mean in a General Election. He claimed that a minister or an individual appointed to handle an appeal “can sit on his or her ass for two days without doing anything before considering that the appeal is rejected.”
He also claimed that the ruling party could order a takedown on a story brought by a whistleblower during the election period “only for the story to be proven correct after the election is won without the voters knowing what actually happened.”
Clarifying that these allegations are false, the two Government ministries said: “Dear The Online Citizen SG, You have published a post by your editor, Mr Terry Xu, and another article by Ghui, on POFMA and GE. Both were published by you on 5 October 2019. The post and article contain falsehoods.”
“For example, they incorrectly assert that Ministers can use POFMA during the elections to restrict and curtail online content.
“The Act states that for the entire election period Ministers cease to exercise their powers under POFMA. Instead, senior civil servants are appointed as the Ministers’ alternate authorities for the election period. The robust safeguards on the use of POFMA will continue to be in place during the elections.
“It is disingenuous to talk about the need for voters to know “what actually happened”, while suggesting that falsehoods should be allowed to go unaddressed during an election period.”
Terry Xu is presently facing a defamation lawsuit brought on by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over another article and Facebook post that allegedly contain falsehoods.
PM Lee’s lawyers have said that the TOC article – which repeats allegations Lee Wei Ling made in 2017 – were “false and baseless” and that PM Lee “has been gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt” due to the misleading article and Facebook post.
The Prime Minister is claiming damages, an injunction to restrain Mr Xu from publishing or disseminating the allegations, and costs. A pre-trial conference is scheduled to take place next month, on 15 October at 9.30am.