SDP appeals against correction notices by Manpower Ministry in first court challenge of fake news law

The Singapore Democratic Party was ordered to put up correction notes alongside two Facebook posts and an article, and to link to the facts provided on the Government's fact-checking website Factually (above). PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has filed an appeal in the High Court against correction notices issued by the Manpower Ministry - the first court challenge of the fake news law.

The party's appeal comes after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Monday (Jan 6) rejected its application to cancel three correction directions issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

A hearing is scheduled to take place at 10am on Jan 16, said the SDP on Wednesday (Jan 8).

It added that it will not be engaging lawyers to argue the case.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it has been informed of the SDP's appeal.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said the papers have been served on the AGC and "we are now studying them".

In a statement posted on its website, the SDP said it had set out its case for the cancellation of the notices in a detailed submission, and accused Mrs Teo of failing to back up her allegations in her rejection of the party's application.

"We are therefore left with no choice but to pursue the matter in the High Court. We look forward to Ms Teo explaining her decision on the witness stand," said the SDP.

"The SDP would rather focus on the coming election campaign. But we have deliberated the matter at length and we undertake this legal action because, as difficult as it may be, we must stand up for our fellow Singaporeans and fight for what little space we have left in Singapore to uphold our democratic freedoms."

The MOM had issued the correction directions to SDP over two Facebook posts and an online article last month.

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 were linked to an article on the SDP website titled "SDP Population Policy: Hire S'poreans First, Retrench S'poreans Last", with 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, at the instruction of Mrs Teo, asked the SDP to correct the posts and the article. It took issue with two claims it said were falsehoods, including the graph in the Facebook post depicting the number of Singaporean PMETs employed as having fallen sharply.

The ministry also stated that a sentence in the online article claiming that a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs are getting retrenched was false.

Last Thursday, the SDP defended the posts and article, saying the statements it made "are, in fact, true and correct".

It argued, among other things, that the MOM had accused it of making statements it did not make. The party then made an unsuccessful application last Friday to cancel the correction directions.

The fake news law has been invoked four times to date.

It costs $200 to file a court appeal against a Pofma order. There will be no charge for the first three days of the court hearing.

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