Singapore Government officials rebut Bloomberg, South China Morning Post articles on Pofma

With online falsehoods and manipulation now a serious problem, societies everywhere look to the mainstream media, including global players like Bloomberg, to maintain high standards of integrity and objectivity, said Ms Ho Hwei Ling. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Government officials have rebutted articles by Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Singapore's fake news law, the latest in a series of such responses to media outlets.

In her reply released on Tuesday (Dec 31), Ms Ho Hwei Ling, press secretary to Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, said all three versions of an article Bloomberg ran had alleged that the Singapore Government uses the law to suppress dissent and the right to free expression.

This is untrue, she said, noting that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) was used to issue correction directions. This allows the public to access both the original posts and corrections, and decide for themselves which is true.

"No information or view has been suppressed," she stressed.

Ms Ho also said the Bloomberg article published on Dec 27, "Singapore Goes on Global Offensive to Defend 'Fake News' Law", had criticised the Government's responses to foreign media stories on Pofma.

"We have never shied from answering our foreign critics on any issue. They can say what they please. All we insist upon is the right of reply," she said.

In a separate letter published by the SCMP on Tuesday, Ms Foo Teow Lee, Singapore's Consul-General to Hong Kong, similarly made the point that the Government has not restricted free debate through its use of Pofma, which has been invoked four times to date.

On foreign critics, she said: "All we insist upon is the right of reply. That same logic applies to Pofma."

Their rebuttals follow earlier ones by Singapore's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Foo Chi Hsia, its Ambassador to the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, and Ministry of Communications and Information director for information policy Bernard Toh.

Ms Ho said the Government has written to Bloomberg as its article "still contains multiple factual errors despite three attempts to get the facts right".

She cited how the article had presented the decisions on political advertising to "suggest that these decisions had been prompted by the Singapore Government's action".

While the Pofma Code of Practice imposes transparency requirements on political advertising, it does not ban such advertisements.

Google decided on its own not to accept such advertisements in Singapore, she noted.

Facebook continued to accept such advertisements but imposed advertising transparency measures globally.

Meanwhile, Twitter banned political advertisements altogether globally.

"Three giant social media companies, three different global decisions on political advertising - yet your report linked them all with the Singapore government and alleged 'opposition fears' over Pofma," Ms Ho said.

With online falsehoods and manipulation now a serious problem, societies everywhere look to the mainstream media, including global players like Bloomberg, to maintain high standards of integrity and objectivity, she added.

"Regrettably, in your zeal to attack a law that calls for the maintenance of such high standards, your own report has been cavalier with the truth."

In her reply to SCMP over its Dec 21 article, "Singapore's fake news law: protecting the truth, or restricting free debate?", Ms Foo said the Government has detailed the falsehoods and the public interest involved in each instance when it issued correction notices.

"Far from being matters of 'interpretation of statistics' or 'opinion of facts', the statements corrected were all demonstrably factually false," she wrote.

It is "telling", she said, that none of the parties who have received Pofma directions - including the Singapore Democratic Party - have appealed or taken the matter to court thus far.

"That would settle, simply and conclusively, whether the posts are opinions or facts and, if they are facts, whether they are true or false. Why have they not done this?"

She also noted that Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, who was quoted in the SCMP article, has repeatedly declined offers to argue HRW's position and "show up the Singapore government's errors face to face".

"We repeat here, for the fourth time, our invitation to him to debate a Singapore minister," she said. "If he is so convinced we cannot withstand HRW's withering arguments, surely he should not hesitate to accept our invitation."

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