05 Jul 2021
STATEMENT BY THE PERMANENT MISSION OF SINGAPORE DURING THE INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF OPINION AND EXPRESSION, HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, 2 JULY 2021
Singapore thanks the Special Rapporteur (SR) for her Report on this very important subject and takes note of its content. The SR’s Report contains false assertions, and Singapore must take the floor to address the misrepresentations.
In relation to recent laws on fake news, the SR asserts that “unfettered discretion has been given to executive authorities without judicial oversight in some legislation, notably in Malaysia and Singapore, opening the possibility for abuse and arbitrary decision-making”. We deeply regret that the SR has failed to conduct due diligence on basic facts regarding Singapore’s “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act” (POFMA). This is particularly since Singapore had provided extensive clarifications on this Act, including specifically addressing the matter of judicial oversight, to the former SR David Kaye in July 2019. It is unfortunate that the SR does not appear to be aware of the correspondence between my Government and her predecessor, nor has she received accurate information about this law.
The clarifications my Government provided to Mr Kaye in July 2019 included the following:
In fact, a cursory check would show that a number of POFMA directions have been reviewed, and are currently being reviewed, by the Courts. There is no basis at all to characterise executive action under POFMA as being “unfettered” or “without judicial oversight”.
The SR has also taken issue with how POFMA defines a “false statement of fact”. This phrase is a legal term that was drawn from long-standing, existing law. It is not new. The SR may wish to refer to our Courts’ published judgments, on how they have applied this definition under POFMA.
I would additionally highlight that POFMA tackles falsehoods in a calibrated way. POFMA primarily relies on Correction Directions, which simply requires corrections to be tagged to the article containing falsehoods. This is similar to the approach that the technology companies have taken in recent times to address misinformation spread on their platforms. Checks would show that Correction Directions add to the conversation. Correction Directions do not silence anyone. The Correction Directions do not require removal of the statement, and are not sanctions. It simply requires that the public have access to both the false statement and the correction so that the public may draw their own conclusions. In this way, the democratic process is aided, because the antidote to falsehoods is more speech and accurate information. If the SR so wishes, my Mission will be happy to send her office more information on POFMA.
The freedom of expression is a fundamental liberty guaranteed under Singapore’s Constitution, in line with international standards. As the SR recognises in her report, this right is not unqualified under the applicable international human rights law and may be subject to certain restrictions.
Singapore wholeheartedly agrees with the SR that disinformation is a “complex, multifaceted phenomenon with serious consequences” and that it destroys people’s trust in democratic institutions. Societies internationally are grappling with the real and serious threat that disinformation poses, and many are considering the appropriate measures – both legislative and non-legislative - to tackle disinformation. Singapore too has taken efforts to ensure that we have the tools to effectively counter this serious threat. POFMA is an important part of Singapore’s multi-pronged approach to combating online falsehoods, which includes public communications and education to nurture a well-informed and discerning citizenry. It was drafted after an extensive process of study and public debate, including with Singapore’s civil society.
Singapore’s approach may not conform to certain ideological preferences, but our laws are ours to make, as it is the interests of our democratic society which are at stake.
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