SINGAPORE: In July, the online magazine Jom was issued correction directions under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) regarding three blurbs in its weekly digest, two of which concerned the Ridout Road issue and one was about an Instagram post by former Reform Party chair Charles Yeo. The correction directions were called for by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong and Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo.
While the publication complied with the law by posting the necessary correction notices, Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, Jom’s editor-in-chief, wrote on July 16 that he “respectfully disagreed” with the POFMA office’s findings and would challenge them “according to the established process”.
However, High Court Justice Valerie Thean on Wednesday (Sept 6) upheld the correction directions.
These revolved around the assertion that Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean had not answered questions about conflict of interest and possible breach of the code of conduct for ministers as well as the assertion that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) had spent over S$1 million to renovate 26 Ridout Road and 31 Ridout Road, which were to be occupied by Law Minister K Shamnugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, respectively.
Mr Tong and Ms Teo pointed out that the Jom article failed to say that Mr Shanmugam had recused himself, meaning there could be no potential or actual conflict of interest.
On the amount spent on renovating the properties, Jom had written, “The bare facts are shocking, including over S$1m of taxpayer money spent on renovation works”.
Justice Thean said, “The flow of the text within the article and its conclusion is an assertion that conflicts of interest caused SLA to spend more than $1m in taxpayer money to renovate the large properties despite the low rental return.”
Finally, Jom claimed that when it had written, “Society: Did Instagram accede to a censorship request by the Rajah?” this was an open question.
The site seemed to suggest that an Instagram post from Mr Yeo had been geo-blocked by the Government. The Government denied that, saying that no directions had been issued to Instagram for such a geo-block.
Justice Thean said, “In my view, what the article does, by a series of speculative associations, is set out a case that the Government caused Instagram to geo-block Charles Yeo’s post.
Again, while this is not spelt out literally, the whole import of the article leads to an assertion that the Singapore Government asked Instagram to geo-block the Charles Yeo post in Singapore.”
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