We refer to the Ministry of Law’s reply on 22 January 2017 to our press statement on the Protection from Harassment Act.
The Ministry of Law stated that it does not intend to amend the POHA to protect itself from harassment. We welcome this statement.
However the Ministry has not stated if it will amend the POHA or introduce new laws to protect itself from false information.
The MinLaw reply neglected to mention that the Workers’ Party’s original statement said:
As the Court noted in the case of MINDEF, the Government possesses significant resources and access to media channels that it can use to address false statements. (our emphasis)
In fact, MinLaw’s entire statement on 22 January focused on the distinction between false information and harassment, splitting hairs and diverting attention with bad insinuations about the Workers’ Party’s good faith in raising this issue.
The reply did not address key points raised in the Workers’ Party’s original statement, namely:
a) If the intent of the POHA was to protect the government, be it from either false information or harassment, why was this not stated in Parliament in an upfront and unambiguous manner? When moving the Bill in March 2014, why was the need to protect the government not directly explained at all? The government’s Parliamentary speeches in moving the bill focused on protecting individuals from harm – a fact highlighted by the Court of Appeal in its majority judgment in AG Vs Ting Choon Meng. Had the government intended the POHA to be used to protect itself, it ought to have explained and defended this application of the law explicitly and directly during the Parliamentary debate rather than focusing that debate on the protection of individuals.
b) Why does the government need these extensive provisions under the law to protect itself, whether from false information or harassment, given the vast media resources at its disposal to put across information in the public domain?
Too broad an application of the POHA beyond the protection of individuals, including and especially through retroactive legislation, may deter legitimate critical comment and debate, thereby weakening public trust in Singapore’s political institutions and eroding our democracy – matters which the Ministry of Law also claims to be of concern in its response.
The surest way to strengthen and protect our democratic society and institutions is to ensure a citizenry that is well-educated about our political system, well-informed about key issues of the day, well-versed in critical thinking, and familiar with robust but civil debate. Independent media and civil society are integral to such outcomes.
If the government cannot counter falsehood convincingly with truth using the massive communications resources as its disposal, without intimidating its critics using all manner of legal tools, then it ought to review whether what it holds to be the truth is in fact so or merely a difference of opinion.
The Workers’ Party
23 January 2017