The POFMA Use Before Nomination Day (v2020.06.30)

POFMA frequency
A note on this dataset’s methodology and sources

The sources used in data collection are government reports (POFMA Office press releases and Gov.sg Factually articles). Media reports and direct sources (the communications themselves) are also used to verify the actor type and accessibility of the communications. A full description of the dataset’s methodology can be found here, and the full dataset can be downloaded here.

Note that this is how the dataset defines reports, uses and communications:

  • A report is a government press release issued to announce a use of the legislation.
  • Within a single report, one can find multiple distinct directions or orders under POFMA. Each of these are classified as a distinct use of POFMA.
  • Each direction or order can affect multiple distinct electronic communications, such as a Facebook post or website article.

For example:

  • According to Report 1, a Facebook post is the subject of a correction direction, issued to Individual A.
  • According to Report 2, this same Facebook post is also the subject of a targeted correction direction, issued to Facebook.

The POFMA’ed dataset would thus track that Facebook post as one communication, subject to two distinct POFMA uses, according to two distinct reports.

The POFMA use on 29 June (invoked by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs against Mr Alex Tan’s Facebook pages and Facebook) was a significant first for a number of reasons.

It marks the first time POFMA has been invoked after parliament has been dissolved for the upcoming General Election, and is thus the first time POFMA has been used by anyone that is not a Minister. It is also the first time Mr Alex Tan, recipient of no less than 14 POFMA uses prior to 29 June, has ever complied with the legislation.

Under POFMA, ministers are unable to issue orders under the legislation after a Writ of Election is issued. Instead, alternate authorities (senior civil servants whom the respective ministers themselves designate) become able to issue orders. This use of POFMA marks the first time an alternate authority (in this case: Chee Wee Kiong, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) has exercised this power.

Mr Alex Tan has deleted both communications which are subject to this use of POFMA, citing the election season as the reason for this unprecedented act. He has steadfastly refused to do so (or include the correction notice required by the directions given to him) in his previous communications.

In light of the election season, Academia.sg has made available ‘the Dogma behind Pofma‘, a chapter from Cherian George’s Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited: Essays on Singapore Politics. The essay offers an insightful look at what POFMA says about the next generation of Singapore’s ruling party. This, and many other worthwhile reads on Singaporean politics, are on sale via Ethos Books. A full list of Academia.sg’s journal articles and book chapters for the general election are available here.

This has been a very quiet month on the POFMA front. These uses (3 in all) mark the only ones in the month of June 2020, after a very active April and May. Having written this as Nomination Day draws to a close, this researcher will be watching keenly at if and how the legislation will be used during the General Election.

If you’re interested in the data behind POFMA: The full POFMA’ed dataset is available here.

Changelog

  • Inclusion of 1 new report, 3 new POFMA uses and 2 new communications.

Improving the Dataset

Are you thinking of using this dataset? As a student, I’m keen on improving this dataset’s accuracy and useability to others, and am always eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. If you have thoughts, comments or suggestions, please do direct them towards POFMAed@gmail.com. A big thank you to the academics and journalists who’ve been giving me your feedback and advice. It is greatly appreciated!

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