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Our response to the police report filed by Elections Department for alleged election advertising breaches during Bukit Batok By-Election




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We refer to the media statement by the Elections Department dated 27 May 2015 concerning TISG and postings on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day of the recent Bukit Batok by-election.
We have not been formerly notified by the Elections Department. So our response is limited strictly to the media statement by the Election department (link: http://bit.ly/1Ua8ayo).
The media statement highlighted three articles TISG had posted on Cooling Off Day and on Polling Day.
The first article “5 highlights of DPM’s speech – Tharman wants to debate with Chee, but not in Parliament” (https://theindependent.sg.sg/5-highlights-of-dpms-speechtharman-wants-to-debate-with-chee-but-not-in-parliament/) was published about an hour and a half after which the Cooling-Off Day began.
You can see the time-stamp of the link to the article on our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheIndependentSG/posts/717239728417672. The article was linked to our Facebook page soon after it was published. This article has 6,334 views of date.
The second article “Workers’ Party and the Bukit Batok by-election – What the WP members said” (https://theindependent.sg.sg/workers-party-and-the-bukit-batok-byelection-what-the-wp-members-said/) was published on 6 May at about 8pm.
You can see the time-stamp of the link to the article on our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheIndependentSG/posts/717500711724907, which is stated as 8.06pm. The article was linked to our Facebook page soon after it was published. To date, this article has 17,059 views.
We published the two articles as we did not believe they contained any new material that is not already in the public domain. In particular, the speech by Minister Tharman was already well covered in mainstream media.
At 8.11pm, we received an email from the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) saying: “the Elections Department has just issued a press release to the mainstream media. We would like to keep you informed and seek your cooperation to comply with the requirements.” The press release of the ARO is here: https://www.gov.sg/resources/sgpc/media_releases/pmo-eld/press_release/P-20160506-1?authkey=f0831ca5-225e-4283-9e24-4b441fd3f57b.
The editorial team of TISG decided to comply with the advisory of the Elections Department as the requirement to comply was fairly prescribed to both the mainstream media as well as to us. We would have even apologised and taken down the two stated articles if the ARO had asked us to, as it was not TISG’s intention to contravene any election advertising rules.
We were however surprised that the media statement by the Elections Department issued today had listed a third article, “Tan Cheng Bock denies involvement in posting by irrational group of PAP fans” (https://theindependent.sg.sg/tan-cheng-bock-denies-involvement-in-postingby-irrational-group-of-pap-fans/). This article has 11,834 views as of date.
This is the only article the ELD flagged, saying that we had continued to publish articles that may be tantamount to election advertising on Cooling-Off/Polling Day.
This is what the article in contention said:

“Former Member of Parliament (MP) for Ayer Rajah and candidate for the 2011 Presidential Election, Dr Tan Cheng Bock issued a statement on May 5 categorically stating that “he has not, and will not, express any opinion publicly on the candidates or issues of the Bukit Batok by-election.”

Dr Tan was responding to a posting by the Facebook group Fabrications About PAP, which had maliciously used his recent image and juxtaposed it with an extract of comments he made when he was an MP in October 1996. Dr Tan’s remarks at that time were critical of Dr Chee.

In the 2015 General Election Dr Tan went to Singapore Democratic Party rally and shook its secretary-general, Chee Soon Juan’s hands.

Dr Tan said that he had no involvement in “this recent Internet posting”.

This Facebook group of irrational PAP fans were the same group who alluded to seeing Lee Kuan Yew in the sky at the time of the commemoration events of his first death anniversary.”

Hence, we fail to see how this is election advertising for either of the candidate in the by-election. We welcome the ELD to explain to us why they think this is so.
We further note that in their media statement today, the ELD has taken issue with the Facebook postings of certain individuals. We would like to draw the attention of the ELD to a Facebook post of ‘an irrational group of PAP fans’ we had pointed out in the third article flagged by the ELD.
This Facebook group, ‘Fabrications About the PAP’, had on 7 May (Polling Day) at 10.57am alleged that:

” The Independent – Singapore, reported Dr Tan Cheng Bock “denies involvement in posting by irrational group of PAP fans”

Of course, Dr Tan CB has no involvement in this page. I won’t allow his involvement even if he wanted to. However, it does not change the fact, Dr Tan made this comment about Chee when Dr Tan stood up to support the motion to impose on Dr Chee Soon Juan a fine of $25,000 for his contempt of Parliament when Chee fabricated statistics to lie to parliament.

Parliamentary record: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp…”  – (link: https://www.facebook.com/FabricationsAboutThePAP/photos/a.245735922149090.70599.213440582045291/1020085951380746).

The Fabrications About the PAP (FAP) is social media site which “regularly promote, propagate and discuss political issues.” We feel that like us, they “should be accountable and responsible for what they publish” too. Furthermore, we have just 29,000 likes to our Facebook page, whereas with 83,000 likes to theirs, FAP may have greater potential to advertise for the candidate of their choice.
To summarise:

  1. TISG is prepared to apologise for publishing the first two articles described by ELD. At the time of publication we were not aware of ELD’s advisory and that it applied equally to all media. We would have apologised and taken down the two stated articles if the ARO had asked us to. It was never the intention of TISG to flout any laws, rules and regulations.
  2. TISG also welcomes ELD to explain how the third article published by TISG contravened the advisory.

We agree with the editor of The Straits Times (ST) who said at the time he was issued a stern warning by the Attorney-General’s Chambers for publishing a poll after the writ of election had been issued for the Punggol East by-election that the approach of news sites should be that “when we get something wrong, we acknowledge it, put it right, and strive to do better.”
TISG will render its fullest cooperation in this matter in the investigation process.
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