Select Committee on fake news

Panel okays some changes to evidence summaries

It received requests from 5 witnesses for amendments, while majority of the 65 who testified had no issues

The parliamentary committee on deliberate online falsehoods has made some of the changes requested by freelance journalist Kirsten Han, activist Jolovan Wham and three others to the summaries of the evidence they gave at last month's public hearings.

The new versions can be seen on the Parliament website.

In a statement yesterday, the Select Committee also pointed out that Ms Han had written to it separately, inquiring whether the original versions of the summaries would be taken down while the amendments were being considered.

"The committee notes that her position on the summary of her own testimony is in stark contrast to the view she expressed before the Select Committee on the take-down of online falsehoods," it said.

Ms Han had suggested during the hearings that nothing should be taken down, save as a last resort, the Select Committee said.

In a Facebook post last night, Ms Han argued that it was important to distinguish between legally mandated take-downs and voluntary retractions. "The key is in where the power lies, and who gets to exercise power," she said. She had asked if the summary could be retracted while the Select Committee looked into her complaint.

"My request certainly had no power to compel the committee to remove the summary, and as events have shown, the committee was free to disregard my request. The same cannot be said for a legally enforceable take-down order."

She said she is opposed to giving a sole body the power to decide what content can or cannot be accessed by the population.

The Select Committee said the requests for changes to the summaries were made after the hearings ended on March 30.

It received e-mails from five witnesses asking for the summaries of evidence, published on the Parliament website, to be amended.

The committee explained that the summaries were produced as working notes for reference each day. Its analysis and report will be based on the "full verbatim transcripts of the hearings, as well as the written submissions".

It also pointed out that all witnesses were told they could check the transcripts of their own appearances before the committee.

Ms Han had asked for 11 amendments to the summary, the committee said. Of these, five are reflected in the new version.

Mr Wham was concerned that the written representation of  non-governmental group Community Action Network  was not taken into account, the committee said. "Written representations will be taken into account in the committee's report and analysis."

Mr Wham later disputed on Facebook the committee's account of his complaint. He did not respond to calls for further clarification. The Office of the Clerk of Parliament, which had been issuing statements on behalf of the committee, said that it stands by its statement.

Mr Wham's request for an additional point to be inserted into the summary has been done, it added.

Former website editor Howard Lee did not ask for any changes to the existing statements, but wanted five additional points to be included. These are now in the new version.

The Online Citizen chief editor  Terry Xu asked for three changes, of which two have been inserted.

Mr Gaurav Keerthi, founder of debating websites Dialectic.sg and Confirm.sg, wanted nine changes. The new version has five of them.

The majority of the 65 people who gave testimony during the eight days of hearings had no issues with the summaries of evidence.

Lawyer Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim said: "Although it doesn't cover everything that I had clarified during the questioning at the hearing, the summary essentially covers some of the main points that I made."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'Panel okays some changes to evidence summaries'. Print Edition | Subscribe