Historian complies with Pofma order but says he will challenge it

Historian Thum Ping Tjin has put up a correction notice on his Facebook page alongside his online video on Singapore's fake news laws, complying with correction directions he received on Wednesday, but only after receiving a warning.

While he had put up a notice on the New Naratif website he founded, he had not done so on his Facebook page by the deadline set by the Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) Office until he received a warning from the office.

Yesterday, he said he intends to challenge the directive. He also reiterated his criticisms of Pofma, saying that with the extremely broad definitions of falsehoods and public interest in the legislation, any criticism of the Government could fall foul of the law.

"While the Government assures us that criticism is acceptable in Singapore, with regret, we do not believe it," he added at the end of the correction notice he put up in a Facebook post and on the New Naratif website linking to the video.

"In our opinion, Pofma correction directions like the one we received are an attempt to intimidate independent media and an abuse of the law, designed to strike fear into the hearts of the Government's critics and citizenry."

He called for Pofma to be revised in consultation with the public and also suggested that Law Minister K. Shanmugam should have a debate with New Naratif "over the impact of the Pofma law on freedom of expression in Singapore".

Dr Thum, who founded New Naratif and is its managing director, had been asked on Wednesday to put up corrections to a video from the series "The Show with PJ Thum".

In the video, he asserted, among other things, that Pofma renders all criticisms of the Government illegal.

The Government refuted this, and also his claims that a statement is automatically considered false when part of it is false; that there is no recourse in law when the Government abuses its powers under Pofma; and that ministers have the last word on the truth. Saying the claims were false and misleading, the Government added that "contrary to what Mr Thum suggests, people are free to criticise and disagree with the Government".

Yesterday, Dr Thum said that while he disagreed with the correction directions, he had put up the correction notice as failure to comply is an offence under the law.

In his Facebook post, he also said that he had received a "belated request from the Pofma Office" to put up the correction notice on Facebook.

Disputing this, the Ministry of Law said that Dr Thum had failed to comply within 24 hours of receiving the Pofma direction, which was sent on Wednesday at around 3pm, and had thus received a warning at 4.06pm yesterday, giving him a further opportunity to comply.

"The warning was sent, on the same e-mail chain that contained the previous day's direction. Thus Mr Thum cannot possibly have genuinely thought that the request was belated," the ministry said. The ministry noted that Dr Thum had put up the correction notice on Facebook at 4.50pm yesterday after receiving the warning.

It added: "At 8.22pm (yesterday), Pofma Office sent Mr Thum a further e-mail, pointing out that his allegation, that the Government had made a 'belated request' for correction, was untrue and referring to the correspondence, which showed it to be untrue. Mr Thum has since removed this allegation from his Facebook post, without any explanation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2020, with the headline 'Historian complies with Pofma order but says he will challenge it'. Print Edition | Subscribe