Parent Category: Current Affairs Parent
Published on Monday, 23 January 2017 21:45
Written by Shawn Danker
The following is a conversation about the Government's harrassment case against The Online Citizen overheard at a coffee shop. The names have been changed to protect the conversationalists' identity but here's the gist of their conversation.
Lup Cheong (smiling): Oh Johnny!!! Come, sit down and have a drink with me.
Johnny: Wa, you look happy.
Lup Cheong: Of course I'm happy. Didn't you hear the news? The tjeng hu lost its harassment case against TOC. I want to celebrate this win with you.
Johnny: Well bro, I think it's too early for you to be happy.
Lup Cheong: Aiyo, why do you have to rain on my parade?!
Johnny: You know how two of the three appeal judges ruled that the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) is focused on giving people a "low tier remedy" from harassment.
Lup Cheong: Yeah, so what?
Johnny: So the two judges pointed out with regards to this case, MINDEF or the Government, is an organization with significant resources and access to media channels which it can use to debunk false statements. In layman's terms this means that the two judges are saying that the G cannot use the POHA to protect itself from harassment.
Lup cheong: Ya, That's why I'm in such a good mood. Coz it means people like me can continue to troll the tjeng hu.
Johhny: Ah but to repeat my earlier point, have you even thought about the bigger picture? Have you even thought about the potential fall out from this ruling?
Lup Cheong: Why don't you just tell me about the point you've been trying to make since you've sat down?
Johnny: My point is this: The immediate implication from this court ruling is that our various ministries and stat boards cannot use the POHA to attack content online. The POHA was crafted to protect the individuals like you and I from harassment. However, the way the POHA was originally crafted had also left the door open for corporations to abuse it.
Lup cheong: Really? Like how?
Johnny: A corporation could use the POHA to claim “harassment” from other companies or persons that they have a dispute with. But I think this loophole has been closed thanks to how the two appeal judges ruled in the TOC case. So that's a win for little guys like us.
Lup Cheong: Then why can't I celebrate the fact that the G lost the case then?
Johnny: Because you and I both know this G's pattern. It always acts swiftly to close loopholes. Even the WP knows this
and have put out a statement to saying they will oppose any G moves to strengthen the POHA as a tool to silence critics.
Since this case involves a news outlet reporting a story made up of falsehoods, I have a feeling the G will use this judgment as opportunity to strengthen the laws on what it can do against purveyors of fake news. I bet you that the G will study this judgment and move to amend the law to more clearly define how the POHA can be used to protect the G from "harassment".
Lup Cheong: That doesn't sound too bad.
Johnny: Yeah, I'm all for taking action against fake news.
Oh speak of the devil, the G just released a statement
clarifying that the Mindef case was always about fake news and not protection from harassment. It said that the POHA was invoked in this case because the harassment in question was made up of "false statements" aka fake news.
Lup Cheong: Oh.
Johnny: Wow. Listen to this. The statement goes on to suan the WP's statement while telegraphing the course of action that will the G will be taking going forward:
"The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions. At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making. Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention.
The Workers’ Party claims to be a champion of transparency; if this were so, it should welcome the ability of the Government and others to put a stop to falsehoods. There can be no objection to this unless the Workers’ Party sees profit in the dissemination of falsehoods.
The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information. The Government will not shy away from this, whatever may be said wrongly about its intentions and objectives."
Lup Cheong: Wow.
Johnny: That suan they gave the WP is really funny.
Lup Cheong: Why le?
Johnny: Because it's an open secret that the WP has two members who cofounded both TOC and the Independent. Two alternative news outlets that have been singled out in the past for "problematic" reporting.
Lup Cheong: Oh...