The Workers’ Party says it will oppose amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”) because the Government does not need to be protected from harassment. The Workers’ Party’s statement is misconceived and misrepresents the issues and the Government’s aims.
POHA provides statutory remedies for two distinct types of wrongs:
(b) False statements.
In AG v Ting Choon Meng, the Government sought to invoke the statutory remedies against false statements, or what has now come to be known as “fake news”. The Court of Appeal found that there had been publication of falsehoods about the Government. But the Court was divided on whether the Government could require publication of the true facts. The majority believed that POHA, as currently drafted, did not give the Government the power to do so. On the other hand, the Chief Justice, in his judgment, said that the Act clearly allowed the Government to correct falsehoods.
This case thus had nothing to do with harassment. It was about false statements.
The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA to protect itself from harassment. The statement issued by the Government on Monday, 16 January 2017 set out the Government’s position on false information and not harassment.
The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions. At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making. Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention.
The Workers’ Party claims to be a champion of transparency; if this were so, it should welcome the ability of the Government and others to put a stop to falsehoods. There can be no objection to this unless the Workers’ Party sees profit in the dissemination of falsehoods.
The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information. The Government will not shy away from this, whatever may be said wrongly about its intentions and objectives.
MINISTRY OF LAW
22 JANUARY 2017