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MCI, Min Law respond after PSP posts pictorial with mouths taped shut by POFMA

The government rebuts, but Bowyer hits back once again

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The Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Communications and Information put up a joint statement responding to criticism by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on Wednesday (Dec 11).

The two ministries said that the recent use of Singapore’s fake news law to correct a Facebook post by PSP member Brad Bowyer does not affect his rights to free speech, while the party claimed that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) had fallen short of the values of transparency, independence and accountability.

In their statement, the ministries state, “In this case, Mr Brad Bowyer (who posted the falsehoods), subsequently posted a short note, as required by law, to say that the Government had put up a Clarification on what he had said. His original post remains accessible, along with a link to the Government’s correction/clarification of his statement. Readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth”.

They also added, “The PSP statement includes a pictorial representation of mouths being taped. How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read. His rights to free speech remain unaffected. He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post. Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech”.

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POFMA was invoked for the first time on Nov 25 against Bowyer who put up a Facebook post about investments by GIC, Temasek and other government-linked companies.

The Ministry of Finance said that his post contained false statements and he was required to put up a note on his post as well as link to the correct facts on the Government’s fact-checking site Factually.

In response, the party said that a minister has the power to declare something as a falsehood without any “justification, criteria or standards”, writing in a Facebook post that “This does not measure up to the standards of transparency and accountability. And where the news involves the Government, it also fails the standard of independence”. /TISG

MCI’s and Min Law’s full statement:
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The PSP statement makes several untrue claims about POFMA.

1. PSP claims Ministers can use POFMA to “declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without any justification”. This is untrue. The law explicitly requires Ministers to state why the specified statements are false. There are precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. When POFMA was used recently, the reasons why the statements were false were explained clearly. Significantly, PSP and Mr Brad Bowyer do not deny that his post contained falsehoods.

2. PSP goes on to assert that there are no “criteria or standards” for Ministers to use POFMA. Again, this is untrue. The law states that POFMA can only be used when clear criteria are met. And the process enables an aggrieved person to challenge the Minister’s direction in court within days, and at minimal cost. This sets a high standard of accountability.

3. PSP says that Ministers can “impose any penalties” they wish. This too is untrue. Ministers can give directions, for example requiring a correction to be posted. But if the direction is not complied with, only the Courts can impose penalties, in accordance with due process and established legal principles.
All this information is available online, and has received widespread media coverage.

A person who posts a falsehood but subsequently posts a correction will face no penalties. If there is any criminal conduct, that has to be determined by the Courts, and penalties are again decided by the Courts.

In this case, Mr Brad Bowyer (who posted the falsehoods), subsequently posted a short note, as required by law, to say that the Government had put up a Clarification on what he had said. His original post remains accessible, along with a link to the Government’s correction/clarification of his statement. Readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth.

The PSP statement includes a pictorial representation of mouths being taped. How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read. His rights to free speech remain unaffected. He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post. Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech.

Link (PSP’s statement): https://bit.ly/2PuRhFQ

 

When asked for comment on the ministries’ statement, Brad Bowyer responded saying, “I think we all have to be ever more careful how we write”, and added that “We need the powers to respond urgently to potentially socially destabilizing posts” and similar scaremongering justifications”. He explained that the first use of Pofma has been a rebuttal of a political opinion piece two weeks after it was made, “which suggests it could be used to curtail speech in the future if not watched closely”. /TISG

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