The Singapore Public Law (SPL) blog was started in 2010 as a forum for short academic commentaries on topical public law issues of the day. Its primary contributors are law academics, whose legal expertise, it is hoped, adds an analytical slant to existing critique on matters of public concern. Since its inception, the blog has developed a significant following. Its posts have also received attention within the legal profession, in the courts, as well as in the media, generating discussions on major issues in public law.
Earlier this year, we decided to hit the pause button on the blog to rethink the format as well as to take time to create a new and more professional look for the blog. We were lucky to have talented graduating students who came on board to help with this revamping exercise. Cephas Tan designed a beautiful new look for the blog and Daryl Yang came on board as managing editor. With this new design and increased functionality, the blog aims to publish more regularly on topical issues on public law. The main approach of providing timely academic commentaries remains the same, but there will be a mix of formats. We also welcome guest contributors who may not be in academia, but whose contributions take on a more academically rigorous approach. In addition, we are introducing a new format – the blog symposium, which comprises of a series of multiple commentaries analysing different angles to a public law issue of recent interest in Singapore.
Thus, to relaunch this blog, we have put together a blog symposium on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act or POFMA as it is now more commonly known. The genesis of this Act was a 2018 Green Paper published by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and Ministry of Law (MinLaw), which highlighted Singapore as an “attractive target” for the deliberate spread of online falsehoods. Following the recommendation in the Green Paper, titled “Deliberate Online Falsehoods”, Parliament convened a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, tasked with examining and reporting on the phenomenon, motivations and consequences for the spread of online falsehoods. The Select Committee was also asked to recommend principles and measures that Singapore should adopt to prevent and combat the problem.
This was followed by a period of intense public consultation and engagement. In total, the Select Committee considered 169 written representations and oral evidence from 65 individuals and organisations, including academics, civil society and the private sector. After 8 days of public hearings, the Select Committee submitted a 176-page report detailing its findings and recommendations to Parliament on 19 September 2018. It made 22 specific recommendations aimed at disrupting online falsehoods, nurturing an informed public, reinforcing social cohesion and trust, promoting fact checking and dealing with threats to national security and sovereignty. In addition, it highlighted that government intervention, including through legislation, was necessary to address the issue.
POFMA was eventually passed on 8 May 2019 after a two-day debate and came into effect on 2 October 2019. A POFMA Office was subsequently set up under the Infocomm Media Development Authority to implement the processes and workflows to execute the law. Over the year, POFMA has generated significant public concern that it would stifle free speech. It has also raised interesting issues on interpretation, separation of powers, and legal authority.
In this blog symposium, we feature commentaries by three young academics in the public law arena to not only analyse POFMA from different angles, but also to showcase young talent in the field of public law in Singapore. The first post by Kenny Chng will look at how one ought to think about the POFMA in terms of the distinction between political and legal constitutionalism in administrative law. The second post by Marcus Teo will examine how Directions made under POFMA may be challenged on their merits and legality. Finally, Benjamin Joshua Ong will consider the legal effect of statements made by ministers during the parliamentary debate on POFMA in response to concerns by other Members of Parliament and the public. These posts will be published in weekly intervals over the remaining Wednesdays in November.
Lastly, it bears noting that the unique feature of the SPL blog is its focus on Singapore. The commentaries will draw from general public law theories and concepts, and on that basis, the analysis will be of general interest, it is hoped, to public law academics outside of Singapore. The blog’s focus on public law also means that it overlaps with several other more expansive blogs in the field, in particular the ICONnect blog and the IACL-AIDC blog. However, there are some issues and conversations that are uniquely Singaporean and would be of most relevance to a Singaporean audience. Accordingly, the SPL blog stands apart from the other blogs in having a distinct role in contributing academic perspectives that would hopefully enrich public discourse and enhance constitutional consciousness in Singapore. We hope that you will continue to support us in this endeavour.
Dr. Jaclyn L. Neo
National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law
Founding Editor of the SPL