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Pofma hearing: SDP argues correction directions not in line with laws, calls on MOM to release data

SINGAPORE — As the first appeal against correction directions issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) began in the High Court, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) argued that Pofma should be used to tackle deliberate online falsehoods, not different interpretations and opinions.

Pofma hearing: SDP argues correction directions not in line with laws, calls on MOM to release data

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, along with party chairman Paul Tambyah and vice-chairman John Tan, presented some of the party’s arguments before the judge on Thursday.

SINGAPORE — As the first appeal against correction directions issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) began in the High Court, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) argued that Pofma should be used to tackle deliberate online falsehoods, not different interpretations and opinions.

For instance, fake news about a “roof collapsing in Punggol”, which is verifiable, is something that Pofma should address, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters after the hearing on Thursday (Jan 16).

Dr Chee, along with party chairman Paul Tambyah and vice-chairman John Tan, presented some of the SDP’s arguments before the judge on Thursday. They will continue delivering their arguments when the hearing resumes on Friday morning, after which the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will respond.

The hearing was held in chambers instead of an open court because the Pofma appeal was filed by way of an originating summons. High Court judge Ang Cheng Hock then rejected SDP’s request for it to be in open court.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, the party’s leaders said that they tried to convert the originating summons into a writ of summons in order to call up the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) as a witness to clarify the statistics in question, but Justice Ang rejected this as well.

The party also called for the MOM to release data on Singaporean professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) employment, which they said would “solve all this heartache”.

Dr Chee told reporters that the AGC — representing the MOM — indicated that they were not willing to release the data.

Their challenge comes after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo rejected the SDP’s application to cancel three correction directions issued to the party, over an article and two Facebook posts that the Government said contained falsehoods and a misleading graphic.

The correction directions issued on Dec 14 pertain to an article published on SDP's website dated June 8 and titled “SDP population policy: Hire S’poreans first, retrench S’poreans last”. The posts concerned the employment of Singapore and foreign PMETs.

Under the law to tackle fake news, a correction direction is issued to a person who has communicated a falsehood that affects the public interest.

It requires the recipient to publish a correction notice with the facts, but does not require the post to be taken down or edits made. The order also does not impose criminal sanctions.

The MOM had said that SDP’s Facebook posts sharing the article contained falsehoods. The ministry also took issue with an infographic on SDP’s Facebook page depicting falling PMET employment for residents here, and a line in the article which read, “The SDP’s proposal comes amidst a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs getting retrenched”.

The MOM had said that employment of Singapore PMETs has risen since 2015, citing its Comprehensive Labour Force Survey. It also said there was no rising trend of PMET retrenchments among residents.

Source: Comprehensive Labour Force Survey, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM
Source: Labour Market Survey, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM

The SDP argued that the data it used — which it said came from the ministry — showed that the number of unemployed Singapore PMETs between 2010 and 2018 has been rising.

The party insisted that its article, which stated that there was a “rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched”, was factual because it had referred to the proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched to all Singapore workers who had been laid off.

However, MOM’s directive was based on Singapore PMETs retrenched “as a proportion of all local PMET employees”, the SDP said.

The party posted updates on the hearing on Dr Chee's Facebook page on the same day.

It said that Dr Chee had questioned why the MOM had used data only from 2015 to show that there had been no rising trend in retrenched PMETs, and why data prior to 2015 was not used.

He had also presented MOM’s own data of retrenched PMETs from 2010-2018, which showed “a clear rising trend”.

Dr Chee asked: How can one party insist of using data of a period of its choosing and then insist that the other party must stick to this period, otherwise the statement is false?

It is important to go back to before 2015, Dr Chee added, because “the problem started way before then and has continued until today”.

In a press statement issued hours after the hearing ended, the MOM said that the hearing did not conclude on Thursday. The SDP was only midway through its submissions, the ministry said, and that the AGC had yet to present the MOM’s arguments to the judge.

The MOM noted that Dr Chee had raised the issue of the time period of the labour statistics in question in a Facebook post. This will be addressed when the AGC presents the MOM’s arguments to the judge, the ministry said.

The MOM reiterated what it had said previously, that local PMET employment has risen steadily since 2015 as reported in the ministry’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey.

“There is also no rising trend of local PMET retrenchments since 2015. The number of retrenched local PMETs has declined from 6,460 in 2015 to 5,360 in 2018, the lowest since 2014,” the MOM said.

Related topics

Pofma fake news SDP MOM Chee Soon Juan

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