POFMA is an anti-fake news law that was passed in Parliament on 8 May this year, after a fierce debate that took place over two days. The new law, which provides the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest, gives ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and whether to take action.
The vote to pass the bill was not unanimous – in the final division, all nine Workers’ Party (WP) parliamentarians rejected the bill while Nominated MPs (NMPs) Anthea Ong, Walter Theseira and Irene Quay abstained from voting. 72 MPs supported the bill.
In its first statement on the issue of legislation to curtail fake news, the PSP said today that although the viral spread of fake news should be curbed it believes that the current form of the POFMA law falls short. Asserting that the courts should be the arbiters who decide what is a deliberate online falsehood, not ministers, the opposition party said:
“The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) is founded on the tenets of Transparency, Independence and Accountability. Measured against these values, the current form of Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) falls short.
“Currently, POFMA empowers the Minister to declare a piece of news to be falsehood, without requiring any justification, criteria or standards. 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.
“Online falsehoods can arise from 3 scenarios: Important facts, statistics and data are not made readily available and accessible to the public and hence guesses were made based on limited information; Negligence or failure to exercise more care by the purveyors of news in fact-checking; and Deliberate falsehoods where the purveyor intentionally sets-out to mislead his/her audience.
“PSP agrees that the Government needs to be able to act speedily to curb the viral spread of fake news. For that, we support the need for Ministers to be empowered to demand news purveyors to post a link to a site where the Government can provide the facts to swiftly stop the spread of misinformation.
“However, 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. The Courts would also have an established system and precedence of determining falsehood from its handling of cases like fraud, thereby ensuring Transparency and Accountability.”
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