TOC loses appeal against Pofma correction direction over claims that police taunted elderly woman

The Pofma Office issued a correction direction to TOC on May 21. SCREENGRABS: DE LONG/FACEBOOK, GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The High Court on Monday (July 25) dismissed an appeal by The Online Citizen (TOC) against a correction direction issued to it over a video it posted that accused police officers of taunting an elderly woman in Yishun.

Justice Aedit Abdullah said the appeal by the now-defunct socio-political site should be dismissed on the ground alone that the outcome is moot, given that TOC has lost its licence to operate its websites and social media accounts.

In any event, the appeal would have failed, added the judge.

After viewing the body-worn camera footage, he accepted that the officers were not reprimanding and taunting the woman.

"What was expressed was of concern with the aim of rendering assistance, by getting the elderly lady to put on her mask," said Justice Abdullah.

He noted that one officer sat down next to her to talk to her and eventually helped her don a mask.

"While the officers were not soothing, or obsequious, or mollifying, it would be a very long stretch to characterise their behaviour as scolding in any way, and certainly not reprimanding or taunting," he said.

"At the very most, they were perhaps paternalistic or nagging, but there was no element of sharpness, insult, scorn, disrespect or cruelty, let alone any hint of an intention to anger or cause pain or jeer."

On May 18 last year, Instagram user @nichology posted a series of Instagram stories alleging that four police officers taunted and reprimanded the woman for not wearing a mask.

TOC shared a video of the Instagram stories on its Facebook, YouTube and Instagram pages.

The next day, the police issued a statement clarifying the incident.

On May 21, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office issued a correction direction to TOC, stipulating for a correction notice to be posted on its Facebook page.

After TOC's application to cancel the correction direction was rejected by Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, it appealed to the High Court.

In a written judgment on Monday, Justice Abdullah said he raised concerns that the outcome would have no practical effect, but TOC's lawyer, Mr Lim Tean, said his client wished to pursue the appeal as a matter of principle.

TOC argued that it was true that the officers were reprimanding the woman.

It said this was supported by an interview it conducted with the elderly woman.

But the judge said he could not see how the original Instagram stories' poster could have concluded in good faith that there was reprimanding or taunting.

Justice Abdullah added that what matters is the objective assessment by the court, from the video evidence capturing what transpired, and for the court to come to a conclusion about what happened.

"How the actions and statements of the police officers may have been construed by those present, including the elderly lady, who was the one being spoken to, matters much less," he said.

As for the issue of whether the woman suffers from dementia, as stated in a police report filed by her daughter-in-law, Justice Abdullah added that it was not for the court to make such a finding in the absence of medical evidence.

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