TL;DR – And they asked, “How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped?”
So opposition party Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Brad Bowyer had the honour of being the first person to be served a Correction Direction after the Government invoked the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) for the first time over Bowyer’s Facebook post containing several falsehoods.
In the meantime, PSP had been silent over the matter.
Until they issued a statement on POFMA yesterday (10 December 2019)
Here’s PSP’s statement on POFMA in full,
Statement on POFMA
10 December 2019
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 precedents of determining falsehood from its handling of cases like fraud, thereby ensuring Transparency and Accountability.
MCI and MinLaw responded to PSP’s statement on POFMA
It did not take long at all for the Government to respond to PSP.
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and Ministry of Law (MinLaw) issued a joint clarification on PSP’s statement on POFMA just this evening (12 December 2019). This joint clarification called out PSP for making untrue claims about POFMA.
The two ministries also said that by asking Bowyer to put up a correction and also a link to the Government’s correction, his rights to free speech has not been affected. The original post remains available online for all to see, and in their words, “readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth.”
MCI and MinLaw highlighted three false claims in PSP’s statement as follows:
1. 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. There are precedents in law as to how falsehoods are to be determined. When POFMA was used recently, the reasons why the statements were false were explained clearly. Significantly, PSP and Mr Brad Bowyer do not deny that his post contained falsehoods.”
2. 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. And the process enables an aggrieved person to challenge the Minister’s direction in court within days, and at minimal cost. This sets a high standard of accountability.”
3. PSP says that Ministers can “impose any penalties” they wish.
“This too is untrue. Ministers can give directions, for example requiring a correction to be posted. But if the direction is not complied with, only the Courts can impose penalties, in accordance with due process and established legal principles.”
MCI and MinLaw also added that “all this information is available online, and has received widespread media coverage.”
MCI and MinLaw drew attention back to Bowyer’s case
MCI and MinLaw assured that “a person who posts a falsehood but subsequently posts a correction will face no penalties.” However, “if there is any criminal conduct, that has to be determined by the Courts, and penalties are again decided by the Courts.”
“In this case, Mr Brad Bowyer (who posted the falsehoods), subsequently posted a short note, as required by law, to say that the Government had put up a Clarification on what he had said. His original post remains accessible, along with a link to the Government’s correction/clarification of his statement. Readers can make up their own minds as to what is the truth.”
MCI and MinLaw asked, “How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped?”
In PSP’s Facebook post, they had uploaded an image showing what appears to be a group of racially diverse human figures with their mouths taped. The word “POFMA” can also be seen on the tape over the human figures’ mouths.
MCI and MinLaw addressed this as well.
“The PSP statement includes a pictorial representation of mouths being taped. How has Mr Bowyer’s mouth been taped? His original post remains available for anyone to read. His rights to free speech remain unaffected. He has gone on to issue repeated clarifications on his original post. Requiring a factual statement to be posted in order to correct a false statement does not curtail anyone’s free speech.”
Would MCI and MinLaw issue PSP with a Correction Direction under POFMA too?
Since the two ministries have said in their clarification that PSP’s statement on POFMA contains (at least) three untrue claims, would they be issuing PSP with a notice to put up a clarification?
Your guess is as good as mine.