S'pore historian PJ Thum & New Naratif issued with POFMA orders over 'false & misleading' video on POFMA

He will need to put up a correction notice next to the video on YouTube.

Joshua Lee | May 13, 2020, 04:39 PM

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam has issued Correction Directions under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to online publication New Naratif and historian Thum Ping Tjin, also known as PJ Thum.

According to a Ministry of Law press release dated May 13, Thum made several false and misleading statements on the Act.

These statements were made on a video posted to the New Naratif YouTube channel. Thum is the Managing Director of New Naratif, according to its website.

PJ Thum: POFMA and its failings

In his video, Thum touched on "POFMA and its failings as a law" and went on to use POFMA as an example of how laws are allegedly "created and abused in Singapore".

In particular, Thum made four points which the Singapore government took issue with:

  1. POFMA's definition of a falsehood is too broad and because of this, "every statement can be considered false in some way".
  2. POFMA makes all criticisms of the Government illegal.
  3. There is no recourse in law for the Court to overturn a POFMA direction if it is an abuse of the powers under POFMA.
  4. Under POFMA, "the truth will be whatever the [ruling party] says it is".

In a rebuttal posted on Factually, the government fact-checker site:

  1. The Courts have developed criteria for assessing falsehoods and can determine if a statement is false or not.
  2. POFMA also only applies to factual statements, not criticism nor opinions. "Before and after POFMA came into force, there have been criticisms of the Government (including by Mr Thum), on a regular basis. They have not been the subject of POFMA."
  3. The Courts have judicial oversight of the exercise of powers under POFMA.
  4. Orders issued under POFMA are done by the government, not a party.

Addressing Thum's points

The government also provided a rather detailed clarification on several other points made in Thum's video about whether POFMA was used inconsistently, the time taken for an appeal, and the claim about past PAP governments using misinformation to silence critics, among others.

Under the Correction Directions, a correction notice must be placed alongside the YouTube video. This notice will include a link to "the facts and the Government’s clarifications on the matter", said the Ministry of Law.

"The video itself will remain fully accessible to the public," said the ministry, adding that members of the public can view the video, read the correction notice and clarifications, and come to their own conclusions.

Top image via New Naratif YouTube channel.