Position has always been that the court decides what is true or false under Pofma: AGC

The AGC clarified arguments that were set out in the Court of Appeal's judgment on the Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act delivered on Friday.
The AGC clarified arguments that were set out in the Court of Appeal's judgment on the Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act delivered on Friday.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has said its position has always been that the court ultimately determines what is a true or false statement under Singapore's law against fake news.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 9), the AGC clarified arguments that were set out in the Court of Appeal's judgment on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) delivered on Friday.

The apex court upheld the constitutionality of Pofma and rejected arguments by the Singapore Democratic Party and The Online Citizen that the issuance of correction directions under Pofma curtails the right to free speech.

A passage in the 154-page judgment said the Attorney-General had argued that a statement is a false statement of fact because the minister has identified it to be so under Pofma.

On Saturday, the AGC said these arguments had been made in a different context.

"The Attorney-General's position has consistently been that it is the court which ultimately determines the truth or falsity of the statement," it said.

"That is why there is an appeal mechanism in Pofma. The courts are the final arbiters, as the Government has repeatedly stated, and as the statute provides."

The AGC said some media reports had conveyed the impression that the Attorney-General had argued that under Pofma, it was the minister who determines the truth or falsity of a statement of fact.

It said the point had been made in the context of arguments by the appellants that the issuance of correction directions was unconstitutional.

"The Attorney-General pointed out why this was misconceived. In addition, the Attorney-General also relied on the principle that false speech as identified by the minister cannot be protected as free speech under the Constitution," the AGC said.

"In this context, the Court of Appeal held that a statement that has been identified by the minister as a false statement of fact nevertheless continues to enjoy constitutional protection at least until it has been judicially determined to be a false statement of fact."

In its statement on Saturday, the AGC also said: "The Court of Appeal also held that the issuance of a correction direction by the minister does not restrict the right to freedom of speech, and is constitutional.

"The Attorney-General acknowledges and respects these holdings of the Court of Appeal," it added.