- The Singapore Democratic Party was ordered by a minister to correct some online posts under a new fake news law
- Hri Kumar Nair SC, who represented the government in court, said the order was valid as SDP’s statements on retrenchment were misleading to a lay person
The Singapore government on Friday argued that online posts made by an opposition party would have misled people into thinking local jobs were being lost to foreigners, as the city state's first fake news hearing wrapped up.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) " which allows ministers to order corrections on statements they determine to be false and which harm public interest " came into force last October and has been invoked four times in under a month, primarily on opposition figures.
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) launched a legal challenge after it received correction orders in December from Manpower Minister Josephine Teo for two Facebook posts and a website article which the ministry said contained falsehoods.
On Friday, deputy attorney general Hri Kumar Nair SC, who represented the government, said the key issue was how an ordinary person would understand statements about retrenchment made by the SDP.
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One sentence in the article read: "The SDP's proposal comes amid a rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched."
Data shows the number of Singaporeans and permanent residents who were laid off from their jobs as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) fell over a three-year period, from 6,460 in 2015 to 5,360 in 2018. But PMETs were increasingly forming the bulk of all local retrenchments " in the first quarter of 2019, they comprised 68.8 per cent of those retrenched in the city state, and that figure rose to 76.7 per cent in the second quarter.
The SDP had argued that they had meant there was an increase in the proportion of local PMET retrenchments out of the total number of retrenchments, a trend that local media have reported on.
Nair called that claim "hopelessly flawed". He said the phrase "a rising proportion" was misleading, as the SDP did not specify what the proportion was in relation to, and that the local media articles were not referenced in SDP's posts.
Nair said in his submissions that a reasonable interpretation of the sentence by an ordinary person was that retrenchment levels for PMETs had been generally increasing. An ordinary person was not expected to read articles with cautious or critical care, he said.
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Speaking to the media, Nair said: "Now, if the court agrees with that meaning, then the next question is: is that statement true or false? So one then looks at the data, which is not disputed, and look at the number of PMET retrenchments " is it going up or is it going down?
"It just says 'rising proportion'. So the question you have to ask yourself is: if you are an ordinary Singaporean reading it, how would you understand? Because the word proportion is there, but proportion to what, is not there," Nair said.
Judgment for the SDP's case will be issued at a later date and the party has until January 22 to make additional written submissions.
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