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Historian ordered to put up corrections to video

Historian ordered to put up corrections to video

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 14 May 2020
Author: Tham Yuen-C

Historian Thum Ping Tjin has been asked to put up corrections to a video in which he asserted Singapore's fake news law renders all criticisms of the Government illegal.

Historian Thum Ping Tjin has been asked to put up corrections to a video in which he asserted Singapore's fake news law renders all criticisms of the Government illegal.

Describing this claim and several others as false and misleading, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office yesterday issued correction directions to Dr Thum, as well as the New Naratif website he founded.

"Contrary to what Mr Thum suggests, people are free to criticise and disagree with the Government," said the Government on its fact-checking website Factually.

Dr Thum posted the video on New Naratif's YouTube channel last Friday, as part of his online video series that analyses and criticises government policies and actions.

Under the correction direction, initiated by Law Minister K. Shanmugam, the historian will have to run a correction notice that links to the facts alongside his video.

The Law Ministry noted in a statement that the video itself will remain fully accessible to the public.

"Thus, members of the public will be in a position to view the video, read the correction notice and clarifications, and come to their own conclusions," it said.

Dr Thum did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

In his video, he had questioned the Government's real reason for Pofma. He alleged that the law exists to silence critics and opposition, and is so sweeping that "even if one bit is found to be wrong or misleading, the whole statement can be considered false".

He added that since it was "impossible to include every single fact about anything in the statement... every statement can be considered false in some way".

The Government said it was untrue an entire statement will be automatically considered false because part of it is false. It added that the legal criteria for establishing falsity of a statement have been developed by the courts over centuries.

The Government reiterated that Pofma applies only to false statements of fact, and thus does not apply to criticisms based on opinions or facts.

It added that Dr Thum had chosen to put out lies about Pofma, even though he had shown that he was clearly aware of the scope of the law when he said his criticisms of the Government would not be subject to Pofma as the law is meant for "false statements of fact".

"Thus his statements, that Pofma can be used in respect of all statements, are entirely cynical, and he obviously knows that they are untrue," said the Government.

Dr Thum had also said Pofma makes all criticisms of the Government illegal; there is no recourse in law when the Government abuses its powers under Pofma; and ministers have the last word on the truth.

To these, the Government said: "It is untrue (and absurd) to say that Pofma makes all criticisms of the Government illegal. Before and after Pofma came into force, there have been criticisms of the Government (including by Mr Thum), on a regular basis. They have not been the subject of Pofma."

It added that the courts have judicial oversight of the exercise of powers under Pofma, and as such it is false of Dr Thum to assert "the truth will be whatever the party says it is".

It also pointed out that the orders are made by the Government, though Dr Thum had referred to the "party", "presumably referring to the ruling party".

Another claim he made was that the law had been used against the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) "interpretation of statistical data".

The Government said: "The issue was not about interpretation of statistics. The SDP had made a direct, false statement." Citing SDP's failed High Court bid to reverse a correction direction over its claims that a rising proportion of Singapore professionals, managers, executives and technicians were getting retrenched, the Government said the court found that SDP had made false statements of fact.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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