Government denounces Washington Post’s ‘false allegations’
The Government has called out The Washington Post for "perpetuating false allegations" after the American newspaper ran only parts of a letter from Singapore's ambassador to the United States.
Mr Ashok Kumar Mirpuri had responded to a Dec 2 article in the online edition of the Post about Facebook complying with the Government's directive to issue a correction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) last month.
The article had pointed out that Pofma could have a "chilling effect on online free expression" and "open the door to broad government censorship", points which Mr Mirpuri rebutted.
Yesterday evening, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) made public a letter that Mr Bernard Toh, director of the ministry's information policy division, had written to Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan.
Mr Toh had noted that the Post declined to publish Mr Mirpuri's response on the grounds that it only ran letters on articles that appeared in its print edition.
The Government was then directed to the article's author, Ms Cat Zakrzewski.
But Ms Zakrzewski declined to carry the ambassador's response in full, only including a "brief quote" from the letter that ignored the crux of the reply, Mr Toh said.
"It is ironic that the Post should have responded thus, given that your article had accused us of censorship. By refusing to carry our letter or report it more adequately, the Post is perpetuating false allegations."
Mr Toh added that the ministry was making the letter public "in the interest of transparency".
The Post's article was published shortly after Facebook put up a notice on a post on the States Times Review page, reading: "Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore Government says this post has false information."
In his letter to the Post, Mr Mirpuri said censorship entails banning or suppressing offending material.
But the Government has "only required Facebook to append to the offending post a link to a factual correction".
"The original post remains intact," he noted.
"Readers can read it together with the Government's response, and decide for themselves which tells the truth," he said.
"This can no more have 'a chilling effect on online free expression' than your publishing this letter can stun The Washington Post into silence."
The Government also issued a response to Mr Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, who was quoted in The Post's article as saying that Pofma is designed "specifically to put Internet companies like Facebook in a headlock to comply with these rights abusing edicts".
In his letter, Mr Toh reiterated points that Mr Mirpuri made in his response to the Post, including that Human Rights Watch had been invited to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods last year.
Mr Toh noted that Human Rights Watch had originally accepted the invitation. However, it declined after being told it would also be questioned about a report issued in December 2017, which stated that the Singapore Government was suppressing freedom of expression.
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