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Minister: An “unfortunate convergence or coincidence” that fake news law has been used against opposition politicians

"If it so happens that some of the people involved are politically affiliated, that's just the consequence of their actions"

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Minister for Communications and Information S Iwaran said in Parliament on Monday (Jan 6) that it was “convergence, some might say an unfortunate convergence or coincidence”.

He was referring to the first few directions to correct falsehoods, issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), which have been made against individuals who are either politicians, affiliated with political parties or political parties.

Mr Iswaran was replying to Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Walter Theseira on the use of Pofma, which has been invoked four times since it came into effect on Oct 2 last year.

Three of the four cases involved opposition parties or their members, including the Singapore Democratic Party, People’s Voice leader Lim Tean and Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer. The fourth case was website States Times Review’s founder Alex Tan.

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Mr Iswaran said the four have made false statements of fact about “issues of fundamental importance to Singaporeans”.

He added: “The falsehoods allege that the Government mismanaged public funds, abused police powers, and discriminated against Singapore citizens in favour of foreigners.”

Failing to deal decisively with such falsehoods will erode or even undermine public trust in Singapore’s institutions, with serious consequences for its democracy, said the minister.

Pofma came into effect despite much concern that it could be used to silence criticism of the Government ahead of a general election.

Mr Iswaran said: “If you look at it in totality, we have to take into account the overall impact, then we have to consider what is the proportionate response, and then be prepared to take it.”

“If it so happens that some of the people involved are politically affiliated, that’s just the consequence of their actions,” he added.

Ms Ong asked if the Pofma Office is monitoring and flagging fake news that is not partisan, which may also be in the public interest, such as the Nussu-NUS Students United Facebook page, which spoofs the National University of Singapore Students’ Union (Nussu).

Mr Iswaran replied: “There is some effort to monitor, but primarily, I think we are looking at those cases which are egregious, and those that are egregious will pop up naturally.”

This month, the Singapore Democratic Party has appealed against the Pofma Correction Direction issued against it and said it is prepared to take legal action in what would be a first under the law. /TISG

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