How Bad Laws Are Created and Abused in Singapore (A POFMA Case Study)

Author: Thum Ping Tjin
Published:

“Correction Notice: This video contains several false and misleading statements. Click here for the correct facts: https://www.gov.sg/article/factually-corrections-on-falsehoods-about-pofma-by-thum-ping-tjin.” Singapore’s Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, has ordered the Correction Direction above issued under Section 11 of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (No. 18 of 2019) (POFMA). We have complied with the legal directive to display the Correction Notice on YouTube, Facebook, and 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.

While we disagree with the Correction Direction, we were heartened to receive these two written clarifications from the POFMA Office:

  1. “POFMA applies only to false statements of fact (Section 2(2) of POFMA). It does not apply to opinions.”
  2. “Criticisms which are opinions and not statements of fact are not covered by POFMA (Section 2(2)(a) of POFMA). Criticisms which are based on true facts, are also not covered by POFMA.”

As such, New Naratif would like to clarify our opinions on the POFMA law, on the understanding that these are not subject to a POFMA Direction:

  1. As stated in our video, 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.

We believe that the POFMA Directive did not challenge any of the fundamental conclusions of this episode, and to prove that point, we have reedited Episode 8 and re-released it as Episode 8.5 – “The POFMA Cut of Episode 8, 100% lawyer approved!” – https://youtu.be/rF1eaCItE-g

For a follow up, please see Episode 9 – “How the use of POFMA against Ep. 8 proves I was right about POFMA”, https://youtu.be/f6Qu8rpfqME

___

[EDITED 14 May 2020 at 14:30 SGT to incorporate the above statement and 23 June 2020 at 18:00 SGT to add links to Episodes 8.5 and 9]

PJ uses the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (POFMA) as a case study, to demonstrate how Singapore’s People’s Action Party government writes poorly worded laws that give themselves immense amounts of power, while misleading the Singaporean people by saying the laws will be used responsibly and for good purposes but then using the law chiefly to silence critics and suppress opposition.

N.B.: This video was filmed 31 January 2020.
Error at 17:09 – The date is 5 February, not 5 January (the caption has the correct date).

“Discretion”: https://youtu.be/OhzA60_4_sI
“1984” film clip is from https://youtu.be/cAKtpCo8fPE

For more on “The Show with PJ Thum”, please see https://newnaratif.com/theshowwithpjthum.

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Managing Director of New Naratif and founding director of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research centre on Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent work is Living with Myths in Singapore (Ethos: 2017, co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Chia). He is creator of “The History of Singapore” podcast, available on iTunes. Reach him at pingtjin.thum@newnaratif.com.

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