SPH complies with POFMA, removes fake news about Wuhan coronavirus

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has complied with the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) to carry out a correction notice regarding one of its post on its online forum, HardwareZone.

According to a media statement, the Ministry of Health has instructed POFMA to issue a general correction direction to SPH on 27 January. This comes after a false statement claiming that a man has died from the Wuhan coronavirus infection in Singapore was posted on HardwareZone.com. SPH was then told to carry the correction notice to all end-users in Singapore who uses the online forum.

Maureen Wee, CEO of SPH, has since released a statement stating that HardwareZone.com had taken down the thread earlier, in line with its community guidelines. Wee added that SPH has also promptly complied with the direction and published the correction notice. Forum users have also been reminded to post responsibly.

HardwareZone.com has over the years evolved from a hobbyist site to a tech-site that has since become synonymous withreviews of a wide variety of products in the computer components, consumer electronics and communications segments. From 5 million page views a month in 2001 to a stirring 45 million with over 1.6 million unique visitors from all over the globe today, the website looks to I.T to not just the technically inclined computing enthusiasts, but also to I.T professionals and casual consumers alike.

POFMA was established in 2019, after a two-day debate in parliament. Under the law, those who spread or accelerate online falsehoods could face jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to SG$1 million. Additionally, it clamps down on the use of an inauthentic online account or a bot to communicate falsehoods. Internet platforms or individuals refusing to display corrections alongside malicious posts or remove them may also face hefty fines and jail terms.

Last Friday, ST reported that home affairs minister K. Shanmugam had also rejected an application by website The Online Citizen (TOC) to cancel a correction direction issued against it under the fake news law. According to ST, TOC published an article on 16 January asserting that Singapore's prison officers were instructed to kick the back of a prisoner's neck with great force to break it, if the rope broke during a hanging execution. Quoting the ministry of home affairs, ST reported that the claim made was "untrue, baseless and preposterous".

This is not the first time TOC has been under fire for its posts. Last year, the website was instructed by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong to remove a post he deemed defamatory and issue on apology. TOC then refused to remove the post or issue an apology, with its editor-in-chief Terry Xu stating that he believes the contents of the article “constitute fair comment”, and he was merely “republishing the words uttered by [PM Lee’s] siblings” publicly. TOC was handed a writ of summons following its refusal to comply.

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