SDP: Ministry’s use of Pofma ‘not appropriate’
Court hears first challenge against fake news law in closed hearing
The Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) appeal against corrections issued under the fake news law began in the High Court yesterday, with it arguing that the legislation should be applied against clearly and verifiably false statements of fact, but not the interpretation of statistics.
The party wants the court to cancel the correction directions it was ordered last month to post alongside its Facebook posts and an article on its website.
The order was made under the new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).
The arguments, in this first challenge against Pofma, were heard in chambers, after Justice Ang Cheng Hock turned down the SDP's application to move it to an open court.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom yesterday, party chairman Paul Tambyah said the crux of the SDP's argument is that the party had not made verifiably false statements.
For instance, if someone claims a roof in Punggol had collapsed, it would be easily verifiable as false, he noted.
But, he added, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had used the law to dispute the SDP's interpretation of statistics, which is "not an appropriate use of Pofma".
The case involves two Facebook posts and an article on the SDP website that made claims about Singaporean professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
The posts carried infographics depicting the employment of local PMETs as having fallen, and the unemployment of this group as having risen.
They also linked to the article which claimed a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs are being laid off.
In issuing the correction notices, MOM said the posts and the article contained falsehoods. It had noted, among other things, that there has been no rising trend of local PMET retrenchment.
The MOM had cited data from its Labour Market Survey to show the number of retrenched local PMETs had fallen between 2015 and 2018.
But the SDP, also citing the Labour Market Survey, included data from 2010 onwards to argue there is a longer-term upward trend.
Dr Tambyah said yesterday: "The MOM has decided that 2015 to 2018 is the magic period... This is an arbitrary use of a time period that doesn't make sense, because it's an interpretation of statistics."
SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, who was in court with Dr Tambyah and party vice-chairman John Tan, said there are many possible interpretations of statistics and neither the ministry's nor the SDP's interpretations are false given the respective time frames used.
In a media statement after the hearing yesterday, the MOM said the issue of the time period in the labour statistics in question, raised by the SDP, would be addressed when the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) presents the ministry's arguments to the judge.
It also reiterated that local PMET employment has risen steadily since 2015 and there is no rising trend of local PMET retrenchments since 2015.
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