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PSP responds to Law Ministry’s and MCI’s statement, says “POFMA should be used as a last resort”

PSP said, "Our statement had stated simply “…to declare any news as falsehood and to impose any penalties thereof, PSP is of the view that it should be done by the Courts of Singapore for Independence.” We do not claim that “Ministers can impose any penalties” nor is it our intention to imply such

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Following the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Communication and Information’s elucidation on the Progress Singapore Party’s statement on POFMA, the party has taken to social media once again with a response and rebuttal.

Outlining what they refer to as “several inaccuracies” in the ministries’ statement, PSP explains that “POFMA should be reserved for only those who repeatedly and deliberately perpetuate falsehoods”.

PSP says that POFMA does not require the Minister to justify what is “falsehood” and if he does, it is entirely discretionary. They also point out that the definition of “falsehood” itself is also unclear. They explain, “The law explicitly requires Ministers to state why the specified statements are false”.

According to the party, the statement in Min Law and MCI’s statement that claims, “PSP says that Ministers can impose any penalties they wish” was untrue. Clarifying, PSP said, “Our statement had stated simply “…to declare any news as falsehood and to impose any penalties thereof, PSP is of the view that it should be done by the Courts of Singapore for Independence.” We do not claim that “Ministers can impose any penalties” nor is it our intention to imply such. Imposing penalties are the follow up actions after the determination of falsehood, and thus have been included purely for completeness”.

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Concluding their reply, PSP said that “It would be to the benefit of Singapore for all organisations not to adopt an adversarial approach, and instead reach for a better outcome via dialogues and debates”.

PSP’s full statement: Firstly, we would like to state our position that POFMA should be used as a last resort. We want to move towards a kinder and more gracious society, not a more litigious one. We believe that most online media content providers are responsible, but everyone makes mistakes. We believe most media content providers will take remedial actions on their own accord upon being provided with the right facts. POFMA should be reserved for only those who repeatedly and deliberately perpetuate falsehoods.

Next, we wish to point out several inaccuracies in your clarification.
1. Part of our statement reads “Currently, POFMA empowers the Minister to declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards.”
In your clarification, you have split that sentence into 2 and said that:
a. “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.”
b. “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.”

Our statement refers to the determination of falsehood, not the use of POFMA. So part (b) is a misunderstanding. For part (a), we believe you are referring to Section 6(b) of POFMA regulations which states that the reasons for declaring falsehood must be listed in a Part 3 Direction or Part 4 Direction. We have listed justification, criteria and standards together because for a reason to be justified, there must be standards with which to measure it against. In the absence of objective criteria or standards, it becomes arbitrary. However, we accept your point that this could be arguable, and will accordingly remove the word “justification” from our revised statement.

However, this does not change the fact that we lack clear and objective criteria and standards for the determination of falsehood.

Section 2(2)(b) POFMA says that “a statement is false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears.”. This definition is circular and does not add clarity.

You have also cited as basis precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. As such, it would be logical for such determination to be done by the courts instead of the Minister. If not, it raises questions like (i) are legal precedents binding on the Ministers? (ii) do Ministers act on the advice of people with similar qualifications, training and experience as judges, so as to uphold the same standards? If you are saying that Ministers are guided by legal precedents, then let POFMA state that Ministers must be guided by legal precedents in the determination of falsehood. This would be a clear criterion. Another criterion could be that Ministers must act on the advice of officers with specified qualifications.

2. In your clarification, you claimed that “PSP says that Ministers can impose any penalties they wish”. That is not true. Our statement had stated simply “…to declare any news as falsehood and to impose any penalties thereof, PSP is of the view that it should be done by the Courts of Singapore for Independence.” We do not claim that “Ministers can impose any penalties” nor is it our intention to imply such. Imposing penalties are the follow up actions after the determination of falsehood, and thus have been included purely for completeness.

3. In our statement, we have explicitly supported empowering the Minister to demand a link to a clarification statement. Therefore, it would not make sense for us to be implying through the graphics that requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement curtails free speech.

The gist of our stand is that empowering the Minister to ensure the link to a clarification should be sufficient for the purpose of swiftly stopping the spread of fake news. There is no necessity for the Minister to also determine a statement is false or done with ill intent, in a hurry. Having the courts determine falsehood is logical and in line with the existing practice before POFMA was enacted, and it ensures greater transparency, independence and accountability.

We appreciate MCI reaching out to us via FB and for this dialogue to occur. It would be to the benefit of Singapore for all organisations not to adopt an adversarial approach, and instead reach for a better outcome via dialogues and debates.

(Source: comments section of PSP FB: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1211711979025713&id=1013391925524387)    -/TISG

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