Singapore has issued multiple correction orders to opposition political parties and online news sites over statements made this past week, as candidates begin their campaign trail for the country’s upcoming July 10 General Elections. These included claims the government had discouraged COVID-19 testing of migrant workers and was targeting to increase the local population to 10 million by 2030.
Apart from the ruling government’s People’s Action Party (PAP), 10 other parties will be contesting at this year’s General Elections where 93 seats in parliament are up for grabs. With safe distancing measures still largely in place, campaign rallies and speeches have been broadcast place online and on social media platforms.
These kicked off on July 1 and candidates have until “Cooling-off Day” on July 9, when campaigning is prohibited, to wrap up their rallies before voters head to the polls on July 10.
However, a day after campaigning began, the Education Ministry ordered a correction direction to be issued under the country’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to opposition party, People’s Voice, over a Facebook “live” video. The party’s head Lim Tean had said the government spent “a quarter of a billion dollars” a year offering free education for foreign students, which the Education Ministry disputed.
It instructed correction directions to be issued to People’s Voice’s Facebook page as well as Lim’s YouTube channel under POFMA.
The Act was evoked again days later involving reports that the government was looking to increase the local population to 10 million by 2030. This time, correction orders were issued to multiple parties including online site The Online Citizen Asia and the Facebook pages of opposition parties Singapore Democratic Party and People’s Voice.
Correction directions also were handed to several Facebook users including “Ryann Smith”, “Jafri Basron”, and “Denise Fletcher”, who either posted screenshots of or linked to an article that the Singapore government said contained false statements about its purported plans to build an underground infrastructure that could support a population of 10 million.
Another five correction orders on Sunday were issued to various organisations and news sites that published statements made by Paul Tambyah, which the government said were false, including that the Manpower Ministry had threatened to revoke work pass privileges if migrant workers were brought for COVID-19 testing.
Tambyah is a professor at the National University of Singapore and also is a senior consultant in infectious diseases at the National University Hospital. He was recently elected President for the International Society of Infectious Diseases and will begin his term at the US non-profit organisation in 2022.
Tambyah also is a candidate for Singapore Democratic Party and will be competing for a seat at the upcoming elections.
Amongst the five correction orders issued included the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS), which published a video on YouTube, as well as national broadcaster and news organisation CNA, which published a July 4 article that featured Tambyah’s comments on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The POFMA correction orders would require all parties, which also included The Online Citizen and New Naratif, to carry a correction notice on the online content stating it contained false statements.
The Singapore legislation was passed in May 2019, following a brief public debate, and kicked in on October 2 with details on how appeals against directives could be made. The bill had passed amidst strong criticism that it gave the government far-reaching powers over online communication and would be used to stifle free speech as well as quell political opponents.
Non-compliance to a POFMA directive is an offence under the Act. Offenders could face up to three or five years’ imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts are used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million in fines, and could also receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continue to breach the Act after conviction.