During the sitting of Parliament on Monday (Jan 6), tensions were raised between Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran and Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim, when the latter suggested that the Pofma Code of Practice for political advertisements would be a good way to discover the election strategy of the political opponents of the ruling party.
Ms Lim said there was nothing to prevent the Pofma Office from looking at information about a political advertisement, even if no falsehoods were involved.
Mr Iswaran spoke about how the Code of Practice was mandated by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (Pofma) because “Singaporeans should know, and indeed that our citizens would want to know, who is behind the political advertisements that they see online”.
Ms Lim raised the question because last year, regarding an incident pertaining to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), social media giant Google said it would not accept advertisements regulated by the Pofma code.
The Pofma Office requires notices to inform readers about who paid for the advertisements, the maintenance of a database of such advertisements, and having channels for the public to report undisclosed advertisements.
While Ms Lim said she had no issue with the public disclosure of where a political advertisement came from, she asked about Pofma’s requirement for maintaining a database of advertisements, including information such as the number of views or the amount paid for the advertisement.
“So my question is, if the advert has nothing fake or alleged to be fake in it, what is the interest of the Pofma Office to know these things?” she said.
Mr Iswaran replied that the code does apply to all political advertisements and, in the event of a falsehood, Pofma could apply.
Ms Lim then said there was nothing to prevent the Pofma Office from looking at information about a political advertisement, even if no falsehoods were involved.
She said: “And in that sense, it is a good way to discover the election strategy of your political … the political opponents of the ruling party.”
In response, Mr Iswaran complimented Ms Lim on her “active imagination”.
However, he said that even social media websites such as Facebook’s disclosure is already more than what the code requires, so he wasn’t sure how it afforded the ruling party greater intelligence.
He added: “And by the way, the intelligence will be available, through Facebook’s actions, for example, I think it’s available for all to see. So I think the member might be barking up the wrong tree on this.” /TISG
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