In the latest of the PAP government's spree on clamping down on dissent, it has issued historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin and his website New Naratif a POFMA correction order over an 8 May video about POFMA.
The video, entitled “The Show with PJ Thum - Ep 8 - How bad laws are created and abused in Singapore (A POFMA case study)”, raised issues about the government's use of POFMA as a tool to silence criticisms against the government. Shooting itself in the face, the government proceeded to invoke POFMA on Dr Thum's video.
Points the government took issue with from Dr Thum's video:
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”
In its clarification, the government insisted that POFMA does not apply to criticisms and that people are free to criticise the Government. The first few applications of POFMA directed at the opposition tell a different story. However, the Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran famously brushed it off as an "unfortunate coincidence". Critics and the international media, on the contrary, have called POFMA a censorship tool to suppress political opponents.
Where a Correction Direction has been issued, the original article remains accessible even though the article must carry a correction notice. In this way, the government argues, POFMA does not curb free speech. Basically, it is saying that you are free to speak but we would ask you to state that it is false if we assess it to be false. So much for free speech.
With the elections drawing near, the government is doing all it can to increase its chances of winning. It will take no chances with anyone it deems to be jeopardising its image. However, the more they try to control society with an iron fist, the more it backfires and gives people the impression that they are desperate.