New Naratif’s Response to the POFMA Correction Direction of 5 July 2020

Author: New Naratif
Published:

Aubeck Kam (the Alternate Authority for the Minister of Manpower, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information, and Chairman of the Competition Commission of Singapore) ordered a Correction Direction issued under Section 11 of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (No. 18 of 2019) (POFMA) to New Naratif regarding a podcast published by New Naratif entitled “An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah”. The Correction Notice states that the interview contains an “Implied statement that the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) did not consult the Ministry of Health (“MOH”) or public health medical professionals, before informing employers that they would be penalised for testing their workers.”

We have complied with the legal directive to display the Correction Notice on the New Naratif website, because failure to comply with this Direction without reasonable excuse is an offense under Section 15 of the Act. We will be contesting the directive through the appropriate channels.

Background:

  1. We were contacted by the POFMA Office on 5 July (Sunday) at 8.20 PM Singapore Time. The POFMA Office order that we comply with the Correction Direction by 2 AM on 6 July, fewer than six hours after the direction was issued. 
  2. The Correction Direction referred to a comment made by Dr Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party during a podcast published by New Naratif. 
  3. The Singapore Democratic Party is an opposition party which was running in the Singapore 2020 General Election against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). 
  4. Singapore’s elections period began on 30 June and concluded with Polling Day on 10 July
  5. We complied with the POFMA Correction Direction and were contacted again at 10.26 PM Singapore Time by the POFMA Office on 5 July (Sunday). 
  6. The office maintained that we had not fully complied with the direction and asked that we make corrections before 2 AM on 6 July, fewer than four hours after the second email was sent. 
  7. We complied with the direction and made the requested changes. 
  8. The second email stated that if Correction Directions are not complied with within the short window of time provided by the POFMA Office, “[…] the relevant enforcement action may be taken without further notice to you.”

Our statement: 

  1. We are puzzled that a Correction Direction should have been issued for an “implied statement”. It is our understanding that POFMA Correction Directions only apply to “false statements of fact” rather than to inferences. We hope the POFMA Office can clarify this point.
  2. We note that POFMA was used 17 times in just five days during this election campaign (http://pofmaed.com/explainer-what-is-pofma/)
  3. We note that, of these 17 times, the majority of these orders have been against statements made by opposition politicians, including Dr. Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party, opposition parties, and media platforms which reported their remarks.
  4. We are of the opinion that the use of POFMA is an attempt to unduly influence this election campaign by the Alternate Authorities, who as senior civil servants should remain impartial. We condemn what we believe to be the politicisation of the civil service.
  5. We urge the Alternate Authorities to respect their duty to be impartial and to refrain from attempting to influence the outcome of the election.
  6. As an organisation that promotes democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of information in Southeast Asia, New Naratif feels increasingly threatened and intimidated by the POFMA Office in Singapore, particularly in the lead up to and during the General Election period. 

We were previously subject to a POFMA Correction Direction on 13 May. Please see our statement and our YouTube videos for more information. 

We reiterate our previously stated opinions:

  1. We are of the opinion that the extremely broad definitions of falsehoods and public interest in POFMA allows, in theory, any criticism of the Singapore Government to be considered false. 
  2. While the government assures us that criticism is acceptable in Singapore, with regret, we do not believe it. 
  3. In our opinion, POFMA Correction Directions like the one we received are an attempt to intimidate independent media and an abuse of the law, designed to strike fear into the hearts of the government’s critics and citizenry, as we described in episode 5 of “The Show with PJ Thum” (“How the PAP Government Abuses “Rule of Law” to Control Singapore”, https://youtu.be/nPfoQyutztk). 
  4. We condemn what is, in our opinion, an unjust and undemocratic law and call for the POFMA law to be revised in consultation with the general public. 
  5. It is our opinion that both the Minister for Law and New Naratif would benefit from debate about this issue. We renew our invitation to Mr Shanmugam to have a debate over the impact of the POFMA law on freedom of expression in Singapore.

 

New Naratif is a movement for democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia. We build a better Southeast Asia by empowering Southeast Asians with the knowledge and skills they need to address our shared challenges and take collective action. Learn more about us here and browse an introduction to our work here. At a time when freedom of expression is more under threat than ever, we ask that you support our movement by becoming a member or donating

For more on freedom of expression, disinformation, and media literacy in Singapore, please see:

For more on politics and the suppression of legitimate political activity in Singapore, please see:

 

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