East Asia Forum faces access blocking for non-compliance with Singapore’s POFMA correction direction

SINGAPORE: Following a breach of the Correction Direction issued on 13 September 2023 regarding misinformation in their article titled “A Spate of Scandals Strike Singapore,” the Minister for Communications and Information today directed the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to execute Access Blocking Orders against East Asia Forum.

The directive under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) mandates that internet service providers restrict end-users in Singapore from accessing the East Asia Forum’s website, where the inaccuracies are displayed.

The Correction Direction served to the East Asia Forum on 13 September demanded the presentation of correct information alongside the alleged falsehoods, enabling Singaporeans to discern the truth by comparing both versions.

Contrary to this directive, East Asia Forum positioned the Government’s response within the comments section at the end of the article. This arrangement did not comply with the stipulated positioning of the Correction Notices at the article’s beginning and the website’s main page.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has stated that if East Asia Forum later adheres to the Correction Direction’s full requirements, the Access Blocking Orders will be rescinded.

Moreover, due to the East Asia Forum’s failure to display the Correction Notice on its Facebook post connected to the contentious article, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Ms Indranee Rajah has directed the POFMA Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction to Meta Platforms, Inc.

This mandates Meta Platforms, Inc to relay a correction notice to all Singapore end-users who viewed the East Asia Forum’s Facebook post.

Earlier, the POFMA Office had issued a correction direction to the Australia-rooted academic platform, East Asia Forum, on 12 September.

This action was a response to the assertions made in the article written by Dr Ying-Kit Chan from the National University of Singapore.

The PMO flagged the article for containing “false statements” regarding the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) independence and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s methods of addressing extramarital affairs among parliamentarians.

In a detailed clarification on the Singaporean government’s website, “Factually,” the PMO addressed several points from the article, including claims about PM Lee, the independence of CPIB, and potential cover-ups involving property acquisitions and bungalow rentals by ministers.

Questions surrounding potential overreach in POFMA directives

In the wake of the East Asia Forum’s access blocking, parallels can be drawn to the debate in Parliament concerning the Asia Sentinel, an online news publication which was also blocked in June 2023 for non-compliance to the requirements set by the POFMA office for its correction notices.

Mr Pritam Singh, the Leader of the Opposition, posed pointed questions about the extent and prominence of POFMA correction notices.

Specifically, Mr Singh sought clarity on why online publications are mandated to feature correction notices not only within the contested article but also on their primary landing page.

Voicing apprehension about overreach, he suggested that having the correction on the article itself should be adequate, preventing the potential misrepresentation of the entire website’s content as disputable.

Drawing a comparison to traditional media, Mr Singh highlighted that print publications wouldn’t customarily be mandated to display an apology or correction on their front page, indicating that similar considerations could be given to online platforms.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary emphasized the challenge of digital falsehoods, noting the government’s aim to counter misinformation as broadly as the original false claim was disseminated.

He rationalized the approach by stressing that online readers seldom revisit articles, making it paramount that the correction reaches them effectively.

Acknowledging the unique design, user patterns, and content nature of each website, Dr Puthucheary underscored the need for adaptability, asserting that a uniform approach might fall short in ensuring maximum exposure to corrections.

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