UPDATE: Ministry of Manpower responds to the statement by the Singapore Democratic Party
SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) says that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo owes the opposition party an “immediate, unambiguous and public apology” over correction directions imposed on the SDP last month.
In a media statement on Thursday (2 January), the SDP claimed the directions – made against two Facebook posts and an online article by the party – had abused the Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
“The problem lies with the fact that MOM had accused the SDP of making statements that we did not make or cited different sets of data which it then used to accuse the SDP's post as false,” said the party, referring to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The statement said the party “categorically rejects” the correction notices, and stressed that the statements made in the three posts that Teo cited are “true and correct”.
On 14 December, the POFMA Office issued a Correction Direction to the SDP over two Facebook posts and an online article titled, “SDP Population Policy: Hire S’poreans First, Retrench S’poreans last”.
The POFMA Office said the posts contained falsehoods regarding the nation’s population policy. SDP was required to add a correction note to the three posts, and it has since complied.
In its statement, SDP accused MOM of distorting the facts.
For example, MOM had said the opposition party claimed that "(local) PMET retrenchment has been increasing", referring to professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
However, SDP claimed that its Facebook post “clearly said ‘unemployment’ but MOM changed it to ‘retrenchment’ – two different subjects – and then accused us of making a ‘false statement of fact’”.
“This is clearly an abuse of the law,” the party added.
SDP also alluded to a line in its post about the “rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched”. The party claimed that this is a “factual statement” that referred to local PMETs getting retrenched as a proportion of all local retrenched workers.
However, Teo cited a different statistic in the Correction Direction, that of “local PMETs retrenched as a proportion of all local PMET employees”.
SDP claimed that Teo used this data, which did not show a rising trend, to label the SDP’s statement as false. The party added that MOM’s post and its own are based on “two separate and distinct sets of information” – both of which are true depending on which denominator is used.
“How can the MOM choose a different statistic and then use it to say that the SDP's post contains ‘false statements of fact’? Again, this is an abuse of POFMA,” said SDP.
Rebutting MOM’s claim that there is “no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise”, SDP cited the ministry’s own data from 2010 which it said “shows clearly that there is in fact a rising trend of PMET retrenchments in Singapore”.
MOM’s ‘lack of intellectual rigour’
“POFMA's stated intention is to prevent deliberate online falsehoods, not disagreements over the use of statistics,” said the SDP, who accused MOM of a “lack of intellectual rigour”.
“A student presenting such work would get an F grade”, it added.
The ministry has used the anti-fake news law for “political-partisan purposes” and to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP's foreign PMET policy that has been and continues to be unfair to Singaporeans, said SDP.
“That the general election is not far away makes our case even more salient... If POFMA is to have legitimate authority going forward, then Ms Teo must apologise to the SDP,” it added.
In response to the post by the SDP, an MOM spokesperson said “the facts remain that SDP published specific falsehoods”.
The SDP was informed that it can apply to the Minister to vary or cancel the Correction Directions (CDs) issued by the POFMA Office.
“It had been earlier reported by Lianhe Zaobao that SDP intended to apply to cancel the CDs. However, the Ministry of Manpower has not received any application from the SDP to vary or cancel the CDs. If SDP takes the position that the CDs were wrongly issued, there is a process under POFMA for them to follow,” the spokesperson added.