1.     A YouTube video by Mr Thum Ping Tjin contains several false and misleading statements.

Falsehoods

2.     On 8 May 2020, Mr Thum published a YouTube video episode of The Show by PJ Thum on the New Naratif YouTube channel, claiming, amongst other things, the following.

a.     Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the definition of “false” means that “even if one bit is found to be wrong or misleading, the whole statement can be considered false. The definition is so broad that the omission of a fact, accidentally or otherwise, is sufficient for something to be considered misleading. The problem is, it’s impossible to include every single fact about anything in the statement. You can’t! And even if you could, anyone could selectively quote it, so that what they quote is misleading. So under this law, every statement can be considered false in some way”.

b.     POFMA makes all criticisms of the Government illegal.

c.     There is no recourse in law for the Court to overturn a POFMA direction if it is an abuse of the powers under POFMA.

d.     POFMA “means that the truth will be whatever the party says it is”.1

3.     The above are false, for the following reasons:

  • POFMA applies only to factual statements that are false (Section 2(2) of POFMA). It does not apply to opinions. If there is a dispute as to whether the statement is false, or whether it is a statement of fact, the dispute can be determined by the Courts. Further, the whole statement will not be considered false, automatically, just because “one bit” of it is false. The Courts have, over centuries, developed criteria for assessing falsehoods. It is untrue to say that “every statement can be considered false in some way” and be subject to POFMA.
  • 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. POFMA only applies to falsehoods. It is untrue (and absurd) to say that POFMA makes all criticisms of the Government illegal. Before and after POFMA came into force, there have been criticisms of the Government (including by Mr Thum), on a regular basis. They have not been the subject of POFMA.
  • The Courts have judicial oversight of the exercise of powers under POFMA. It is therefore untrue to say that there can be no recourse in law, when there has been abuse of POFMA powers
  • For the above reasons, it is also false for Mr Thum to assert that POFMA “means that the truth will be whatever the party says it is.”1

4.     Mr Thum also states that POFMA has been used against the “interpretation of statistical data” by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). This is also false. The issue was not about interpretation of statistics. The SDP had made a direct, false statement. (See MOM’s clarification in the said SDP case.)  SDP challenged the POFMA directions against it, and the High Court held that there was no basis for the directions to be set aside, because SDP had made false statements of fact. The High Court’s judgment is publicly available.

Additional Clarifications

5.     Contrary to what Mr Thum suggests, people are free to criticise and disagree with the Government.

6.     POFMA has been used to deal specifically with falsehoods, which suggested that the Government is mismanaging public funds, abusing police power, favouring foreigners over locals, and carrying out judicial executions in an unlawful, brutal manner, among others. The consequences that such falsehoods about public institutions can have on society were extensively set out in the Government’s Green Paper, the Select Committee Report, and the Second Reading speech for POFMA. Those interested can look at this material and form their own views as to whether, as Mr Thum claims, POFMA has been used in a manner inconsistent with government assurances.

7.     POFMA has enabled these falsehoods to be corrected in a targeted manner. Powers under POFMA are in fact narrower than pre-existing legislation dealing with falsehoods.

8.     Further, so far, the primary approach has been to issue Correction Directions under POFMA.2 Where a Correction Direction has been issued, the original article remains completely accessible. Readers can read for themselves both the primary piece and the correction, and make up their own minds. Recipients of POFMA directions who put up the Correction Notice can continue to put forward their point of view on the issue, and their original articles also remain available for anyone to read.

 

9.     POFMA was used against COVID-19-related falsehoods in 11 of the 18 POFMA cases to date. In 7 of these cases, directions were issued within 24 hours, sometimes in a matter of hours.

 

10.     Mr Thum states that the court process takes a long time. But, as the Government has said, POFMA’s Rules provide for the High Court hearing to be held 6 working days after the originating summons is filed in court, which is expedited, compared with the usual process which could take some months.  As the Government has also said, there are no hearing fees for the first three days (if the hearing does take three days), and the Court will have the power to waive any further fees. For individuals, filing fees are lower than ordinary court fees. The Government had also explained that how long the hearing takes, and how long the Courts take to decide, are matters for the Courts; Parliament and the Executive cannot intervene in those.

 

11.     Mr Thum also misleadingly uses a video clip of an interview with the Minister for Law to suggest that POFMA can be easily abused by a future government. He  omits the first part of the Minister’s answer, which is that “first of all, there are checks… the courts have oversight of it. So there is a clear oversight mechanism (and) checks.

 

12.     Contrary to what Mr Thum said, the Government did not try to apply the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act retroactively in Mr Li Shengwu’s case. The substantive law applicable to the case was common law contempt, and not the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act.

 

13.     Mr Thum claims that “past PAP governments have spread misinformation to silence critics, like in Operation Spectrum.” These are his opinions (and thus not subject to a POFMA Direction).  Similar claims have been refuted elsewhere.

 

14.     Public clarifications on POFMA have been put out by the Government, repeatedly. Yet, in the past year, Mr Thum has on multiple occasions repeated falsehoods and misleading statements similar to those in this case. He is clearly aware of what the true scope of POFMA is: when a viewer asked whether his criticisms of the government may be false, he shrugged off the suggestion, stating that “POFMA is supposed to only be used against ‘false statements of facts’, meaning, his opinions cannot be the subject of POFMA.  Thus his statements (set out in para 2 above), that POFMA can be used in respect of all statements, are entirely cynical, and he obviously knows that they are untrue.

 

15.     Under the Correction Directions issued to Mr Thum and New Naratif, the 8 May video can remain accessible to the public. That gives the lie to any suggestion of censorship. It will allow viewers to view his video, and this statement, and reach their own conclusions.

 

[1] Mr Thum refers to ‘party’, presumably referring to the ruling party. The Orders under POFMA are made by the Government.

[2] Two entities have refused to comply with the Correction Directions. Accordingly, their sites were blocked. One was a person who has persistently set up various sites to purvey falsehoods, for financial gain.

 


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POFMA