Fake News and Operation Coldstore

By Ariff Roose

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Amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the rising threat of fake news, Singapore too, has decided to look into the possibility of implementing an Anti-Fake News law. A Select Committee was formed in January to examine the problem of deliberate online falsehoods by considering the views of 79 individuals and organisations - three of whom included Google, Facebook and Twitter.

But what began as a simple hearing on Singapore’s proposed fake-news law, had transformed into a six-hour ‘grilling’ by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, about the truths of a polemical point in Singapore’s history: Operation Coldstore.

The man on the receiving end of this six-hour inquiry was Dr. Thum Ping Tjin - a well-known academic from the city-state. His written submission had initially questioned the necessity of a fake news law, first stating that the country had enough laws to counter fake news, then second, claiming that Singapore hadn’t been troubled by Fake News. His sentiment was echoed by most of the 79, including the three tech giants whose headquarters are based in Singapore. 

What shifted the debate, however, was when he raised an exception to the latter - accusing the People's Action Party for spreading ‘fake news’ about the details of Operation Coldstore. 10 percent of the 50 hours spent on discussing fake news, had been used to grill Dr. Thum on Operation Coldstore.

>> You can read all about the 6-hour ‘grilling’ of Dr. Thum on this run-down of events by mothership.sg

Over 170 academics in Singapore denounced the 'grilling' of Dr. Thum Ping Tjin

Operation Coldstore refers to the arrest of 107 people (including key political opponents and union leaders) in 1963. They were detained without trial under suspicion of involvement with radical communist groups that sought to overthrow the Singapore government.

Dr. Thum, in his peer-reviewed research, contended that the operation was unprecedented and used for political gain, but was masked under the pretense of security concerns (hence, the fake-news accusation). He cites declassified documents as proof of this, further adding that former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew tacitly admitted to the British Commissioner in private meetings that the purpose of Operation Coldstore was political gain.”

Dr. Thum produced a 50 episode series called "The History of Singapore". In two episodes, he makes a case against the "truths" of Operation Coldstore.




The counter-argument

Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister, K. Shanmugam, spent six hours mounting a case against Dr. Thum. The minister claimed that Dr. Thum had fallen short of the standards of an objective historian as he failed to consider various historical accounts made by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders and other researchers.

Kumar Ramakrishna, a reputable academic and author, backed up the minister’s claims. In an assertive 1,900 word essay published on The Straits Times, he outlined the inaccuracies of Dr. Thum’s research paper, using research from his book Original Sin? Revising The Revisionist Critique Of The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore. He concluded that Dr. Thum hadn’t accounted for several important pieces of evidence, and that he had let his political bias and activism get the better of his professional work.

“... it is not clear where Dr Thum the academic historian ends and Dr Thum the partisan activist begins. Such fuzziness seems to have crept into his scholarship.” -  Kumar Ramakrishna, author and academic, wrote in The Straits Times.


“The History of Singapore”, by Dr. Thum Ping Tjin on BFM89.9’s Live and Learn.



Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, Operation Coldstore, Singapore, Fake News, Controversial.