Thum Ping Tjin and New Naratif to be issued correction orders over POFMA video

Screenshot of Thum Ping Tjin's video uploaded on 8 May. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Screenshot of Thum Ping Tjin's video uploaded on 8 May. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

SINGAPORE — Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Wednesday (13 May) instructed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office to issue correction orders to online site New Naratif and its managing director Thum Ping Tjin over a video about POFMA uploaded on several platforms.

In a press release, the POFMA office said that the video contained “false statements about the scope of POFMA, when and how it can be used, and the role of the courts”.

The video, entitled “The Show with PJ Thum - Ep 8 - How bad laws are created and abused in Singapore (A POFMA case study)”, was posted on New Naratif’s YouTube page, Facebook page and webpage, and Dr Thum’s Facebook page on 8 May. The video, which is still available on New Naratif’s YouTube channel, has garnered more than 8,000 views as of Wednesday afternoon.

Government website Factually clarified the statements made by Dr Thum on its page on Wednesday, rebutting the allegations that he had made in his video.

It stated that, contrary to what Dr Thum had suggested, people are free to criticise and disagree with the government.

In his video, Dr Thum made several claims, including how a whole statement could be considered false “even if one bit is found to be wrong or misleading”.

To this allegation, Factually stated, “The whole statement will not be considered false, automatically, just because ‘one bit’ of it is false. The courts have, over centuries, developed criteria for assessing falsehoods.”

The website pointed out that it was untrue that “every statement can be considered false in some way” and be subject to POFMA.

Dr Thum had also claimed that POFMA makes all criticisms of the government illegal and that there is no recourse in the law for the courts to overturn a POFMA direction even if it is an abuse of powers under POFMA.

He also made the statement that under the POFMA, the truth would be “whatever the party says it is”.

However, Factually refuted this, stating that POFMA did not apply to opinions. It pointed out that criticisms - which are opinions and not statements of fact - are not covered by POFMA.

“POFMA only applies to falsehoods. It is untrue (and absurd) to say that POFMA makes all criticisms of the government illegal,” it said.

It noted that criticisms against the government, including from Dr Thum, had been made on a regular basis both before and after POFMA came into force. These criticisms have not been the subject of POFMA, it added.

Factually added that the courts have judicial oversight of the exercise of powers under POFMA.

“Mr Thum states that the court process takes a long time. But, as the government has said, POFMA’s Rules provide for the High Court hearing to be held six working days after the originating summons is filed in court, which is expedited, compared with the usual process which could take some months.”

In stating that people could still freely criticise the government, Factually said that POFMA was used to deal specifically with falsehoods which suggested that the government was mismanaging public funds or abusing police, among other claims.

“POFMA has enabled these falsehoods to be corrected in a targeted manner. Powers under POFMA are in fact narrower than pre-existing legislation dealing with falsehoods,” it said.

It added that POFMA has been used against COVID-19-related falsehoods in 11 of the 18 cases to date. In seven of these cases, directions were issued within 24 hours.

Under the POFMA Office’s Correction Directions issued to Dr Thum and New Naratif, the video can remain accessible to the public. This would allow viewers to view both his video and Factually’s statement before coming to their own conclusions. Dr Thum will be required to put up a correction notice alongside the video.

The historian came to the public’s attention when he and Shanumgam sparred over the history of Operation Coldstore for almost six hours on the final day of the Select Committee hearings on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in 2018.

The police and Special Branch officers launched the operation in the wee hours of 2 February 1963 and arrested more than 100 people including leaders of opposition party Barisan Sosialis, in a bid to crush what the then authorities called a communist conspiracy to seize power in Singapore. Dr Thum had maintained that the operation was carried out primarily due to political and not security considerations.

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