MCI response to PQs on Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA)
Parliament Sitting on 6 January 2020
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
*10. Ms Anthea Ong:: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information (a) how is the public interest threshold of online statements of falsehoods determined and measured under the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA); (b) whether the Ministry will consider recommending that Ministers state which public interest criteria under section 7(b) of POFMA are met and how so, when requesting for a direction to be issued; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider creating a central listing of all issued directions on the POFMA website.
*11. Ms Anthea Ong: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information (a) what is the Ministry’s position on perceptions of a partisan political bias over the recent applications of POFMA and how this may impact public trust in objectivity and independence of the Government’s instruments of combatting online falsehoods; and (b) what steps are being taken to maintain public trust in light of such perceptions, especially given the critical role of public trust in buttressing society against coordinated, malicious fake news.
Mr Speaker, Sir, may I have your consent to take NMP Anthea Ong’s two questions on POFMA together.
In recent weeks, four Government Ministries have issued Correction Directions under POFMA, to address false statements of fact made by various parties about issues of fundamental importance to Singaporeans. The falsehoods allege that the Government mismanaged public funds, abused police powers, and discriminated against Singapore citizens in favour of foreigners.
Failing to deal decisively with such falsehoods will erode, and even undermine, public trust in our institutions, with serious consequences for our democracy. The Government and indeed Members of this House thus have a duty to ensure that our citizens are not misled or misinformed by such falsehoods. That is precisely why POFMA was enacted.
In all of the POFMA cases so far, Correction Directions have been issued. These directions require that the facts be placed alongside the original posts, so that Singaporeans can read both versions and draw their own conclusions.
Wouldn’t the Member agree that the best way to maintain public trust in Government and our institutions, is to juxtapose the truth with the falsehood, and allow our citizens to decide what the facts are? Wouldn’t the Member also agree that the law should apply, even if those who have put out the falsehoods thus far happen to have political affiliations?
Furthermore, POFMA requires that the Minister provide the basis, in accordance with existing laws, for his/her determination that a statement is a falsehood. In the recent cases, the falsehoods and the reasons for using POFMA, were made clear in the clarifications that were issued by the respective Ministries. If the recipient of the POFMA Direction disputes the facts, quick and inexpensive recourse to the Courts is available. These provisions ensure transparency and accountability in the POFMA process.
Finally, the NMP also asked if there are plans to create a central listing of POFMA directions. All Government corrections issued under POFMA are already compiled in a section of the government’s fact-checking website, ‘Factually’. In addition, POFMA Office website has a list of the press releases issued together with POFMA directions.