Fake news law: SDP defends posts, says it will apply to cancel correction notices; MOM says party should follow process

The Singapore Democratic Party will file an application to the Ministry of Manpower to cancel the correction notices issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on Thursday (Jan 2) defended two Facebook posts and an article that drew correction orders under Singapore's fake news law, saying the statements it made "are, in fact, true and correct".

A party spokesman said the SDP will file an application to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Friday to cancel the correction notices issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

In a media statement, the party also called on Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who had initiated the corrections last month, to retract the direction and issue a public apology.

Responding to the SDP's statement, the ministry said it has not received any application from the party to vary or cancel the correction directions.

"If SDP takes the position that the correction directions were wrongly issued, there is a process under Pofma for them to follow," said a ministry spokesman. "The facts remain that SDP published specific falsehoods."

There is no deadline for the party to submit an application.

If the ministry rejects the application, the SDP will then be able to file an appeal with the High Court.

On Dec 2 last year, the SDP began running a series of sponsored posts on Facebook, including two about local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

Both posts linked to the same article on the SDP website titled "SDP Population Policy: Hire S'poreans First, Retrench S'poreans Last", each accompanied by a different infographic.

One contained a graph labelled "local PMET employment" along with a downward arrow, while the other contained text that said "local PMET unemployment has increased".

On Dec 14, the MOM asked SDP to correct the two posts and the online article.

It took issue with two claims that it said were falsehoods, including the graph in the Facebook post depicting the number of Singaporean PMETs employed as having fallen sharply.

The ministry's correction also stated that a sentence in the online article, claiming a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs are getting retrenched, is false. In response, the SDP said it had relied on media reports to make its claim.

In a statement the next day, the MOM said the statistics reported by the media meant that among all retrenched locals, the number of PMETs among them had risen.

"This is fundamentally different from what the SDP says, which is that among Singapore PMETs, the number getting retrenched has risen," the MOM had said.

In its statement on Thursday, the SDP said MOM had accused the party of making statements that it did not make, and that it had used different sets of data from that which the SDP used to label the party's posts as false.

The party also disputed the ministry's statement 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 has declined between 2015 and 2018.

But the SDP, also citing the Labour Market Survey, included data from 2010 onwards to argue that there is a longer-term upward trend.

"Pofma's stated intention is to prevent deliberate online falsehoods, not disagreements over the use of statistics," the SDP said.

It also alleged that the ministry had used Pofma for "political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP's foreign PMET policy".

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