SDP complies with correction directions initiated by MOM under fake news law

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo had ordered, under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, the addition of a correction note to SDP's Facebook posts and an article on its website. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) complied on Sunday (Dec 15) with correction orders mandated by the Government on three of its online posts which dealt with the issue of local employment of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

But the opposition party said it plans to apply to cancel the correction notices, which the Manpower Ministry said it would consider if the application was submitted.

On the SDP's Facebook page, the party continued to argue its case in a letter addressed to Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, which was signed by SDP vice-chairman John Tan.

The SDP had posted the letter on Sunday at about 2.30pm, in response to the correction orders, which were sent to the opposition party by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office under Mrs Teo's instruction the day before.

Then, at around 5pm, the SDP issued the correction notices, but continued to argue that the "conclusions that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has come to are disputable".

"Under Pofma, we have to comply with the order but we will be applying to cancel the Correction Directions," said the SDP.

This statement came after each of the three correction notes.

To cancel the correction direction, the SDP will have to apply to the Manpower Minister. If the application is refused, it can then file an appeal with the High Court.

The SDP has to comply with the correction direction even if its application or appeal is pending.

On Saturday, the SDP had been asked to correct two of its Facebook posts and an online article that claimed local PMET employment had plunged, in the third use of the law against fake news in recent weeks.

This meant the opposition party had to put up corrections alongside the posts and article and link to the facts provided by the MOM on the Government's fact-checking website Factually.

The SDP, in its letter on Sunday, cited a Straits Times report from March 2019 with the headline "PMETs make up rising share of retrenched locals" as one reason why it had said in its own online article that its proposal had come "amidst a rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched".

MOM, in a rebuttal on Sunday night, said that SDP's statement was wrong.

The ST report had referred to all retrenched locals, of which there were 7,070 in 2018. Among them, the number of PMETs had risen.

"This is fundamentally different from what the SDP says, which is that among Singapore PMETs (1,254,000 in 2018), the number getting retrenched has risen," said MOM in its statement.

Among local PMETs, it noted, the number retrenched had declined from 6,460 in 2015 to 5,360 in 2018. In fact, the number in 2018 was the lowest since 2014.

The ministry also said that it had explained in Parliament in April that because there are now more locals in PMET jobs, more of them could be affected in a retrenchment exercise.

"However, retrenchments have not been rising," it said.

MOM reiterated the two key points it had highlighted in its correction notice - that there is no rising trend of local PMET retrenchment and local PMET employment has been increasing consistently and continued to do so.

"This is very different from the picture painted by the SDP," it said.

"In this period of economic uncertainty, it is understandable that Singaporeans are concerned about jobs.

"MOM's objective in pointing out false and misleading statements is to ensure that public debate on the important issue of jobs are based on accurate facts."

The ministry also noted that SDP had responded to the correction directions and stated its intent to apply for their cancellation.

"We will consider the grounds of their application should it be submitted," the ministry said.

MOM had criticised the motive behind the online posts and article on Singapore's population policy.

It said on Saturday: "These false and misleading statements by the SDP have a singular objective - to stoke fear and anxiety among local PMETs.

"It is important to set the facts straight so that Singaporeans are not misled."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.