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New General Correction Order, which affects news outlets & broadcasters, added to Protection from Harassment Act

Amending the four Orders and adding a new one.

Matthias Ang | May 8, 01:12 pm

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Protection from online falsehoods will no longer be just at the national and ministerial level.

Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong announced that protection from online falsehoods would also apply at the personal and corporate level.

New amendments

Speaking at the second reading of the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on May 7, Tong said that protections would come as part of the Bill’s proposed amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

This would make it easier for both individuals and companies to tackle falsehoods that might affect their livelihoods or businesses.

Tong said the Bill would help to strike a balance, with the right of people to hold their own opinions and debate matters of interest.

Online falsehoods does not cover satire and parody

In explaining what constituted online falsehoods on the personal and corporate level, Tong stated that this included misleading statements, but not opinions, criticisms, satire and parody.

Tong further added that a misleading statement did not constitute one person calling another person dishonest, but rather:

  • a statement that omits material facts and is considered by a reasonable person to be misleading because of such omissions,
  • Person A saying Person B was convicted of cheating but such an event either never happened, or B was eventually acquitted.
    • Which means, in the latter instance of B’s acquittal, that A was also trying to convey false meaning.

Five kinds of orders against online falsehoods on the personal and corporate level

On the issuance of a order against a false statement of fact, Tong stated that the following conditions, amongst other things, had to be fulfilled:

  • The statement being complained of is false, and
  • It is just and equitable in the circumstances for the order to be sought.

Once a false statement of fact was established, five types of orders by the court were available in response, depending on the following factors:

  • Nature of the online falsehood that had been made,
  • The seriousness of its allegation,
  • The degree to which the statement has been publicised, and
  • Whether the subject of the false statement has the means to publicise his or her own version of the truth.

Tong added that out of these five orders, one of them was an entirely new type of order introduced under the Bill, with the remaining four being existing orders that had been subjected to amendments.

With regard to the new order, Tong stated that it would be called General Correction Order.

New General Correction Order

Tong explained this order was designed for situations where the court is satisfied serious harm to the reputation of the subject, whether professional or otherwise, had been or is likely to be caused.

This meant the order targets a prescribed third party, who was not responsible for the publication of the false statement.

Tong clarified such third parties included news broadcasters, media outlets and online platforms.

When this order is issued, the third party could be required to publish a notice stating the statement was found to be false, along with a correction.

Third parties can contest claims

Explaining the rationale for the order, Tong said the current ubiquity of technology means that falsehoods can spread across several different platforms.

This makes it difficult to identify who has been exposed to a falsehood.

As such, the issuance of such an order against a prescribed third party, with their sufficiently wide reach, can help to correct viral falsehoods which are particularly serious or persistent.

However, the order will also make provision for the third party to contest the claims behind it, prior to being granted.

Should this occur, the applicant can rely on an interim disabling order or an interim stop publication order to stop the spread of the falsehood.

Amendments to existing Orders

Tong also explained the Bill’s amendments to the four existing orders.

1. Stop Publication Orders

A person or entity will not be allowed to publish a false statement or any substantially similar statement, with the latter aspect being part of the amendments.

Tong added that this order ensures publishers cannot game the system by simply slightly amending a false statement.

Moreover, a stop publication order can also be taken out against multiple parties, without the need for an applicant to make multiple applications.

In this way, the order can also cover situations where anonymous users may use different online accounts to publish the same false statement.

2. Correction Orders

This order sought to address the problems of falsehoods travelling faster than truth, and how repeated exposure to false statements on social media made them more believable.

Tong added that in the event it is insufficient in ordering a respondent to stop publishing a falsehood:

  • The respondent party would be required to publish the entire truth.
  • State that the initial statement in question was been found to be false.
  • Correct it.

Moreover, the respondent party must also make this notice available to parties specified by the court.

3. Disabling orders

Tong said that a disabling order can be issued in order to render a false statement of fact unavailable to readers.

In this case, the order would require an online platform to disable access to material on it containing a false statement of fact.

4. Targeted correction orders

This is similar to Correction orders, but Targeted correction orders can be made against online platforms.

Tong elaborated that in this instance, the platform would be required to distribute a correction of a false statement it carried to its viewers, so as to ensure that they would be able to access the truth.

Orders will be made by the Protection from Harassment Court

With regard to the procedures and application for the orders, Tong said they will fall under the jurisdiction of the proposed Protection from Harassment Court (PHC), with a timeline of up to four weeks.

Additionally, the PHC will aim to conduct hearings for an interim relief order within 48 to 72 hours of application, and within 24 hours of application, should the false statement be published online.

Penalty-wise, Tong stated that non-compliance with the orders would be treated as contempt of court.

Related story:

New court dealing with harassment to be established: Edwin Tong

Pritam Singh on POHA changes: WP support bill, but clarifications needed

Top image from Christoph Scholz via Flickr

About Matthias Ang

Matthias is that annoying guy whose laughter overshadows the joke.

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