Singapore passes fake news law

Cheryl Sanders
May 12, 2019

Singapore's parliament has become the latest to pass laws hoping to curb the spread of fake news.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill passed with 72 members voting in favor.

Officials have said the law does not cover opinion, but will focus on fighting outright falsehoods carried on social media that can foment disorder in the ethnically diverse nation.

The southern East Asia nation passed a law Wednesday night criminalizing the publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told parliament that the law would not affect free speech and would aim to tackle "falsehoods, bots, trolls, and fake accounts", the BBC reported. A person found guilty of doing this in Singapore could be fined heavily and/or jailed for up to five years.

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects is that it could be applied to closed private platforms such as chat groups and social media groups, including apps with end-to-end encryption, where only recipients and senders can see messages.

'We remain concerned that this law will hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem, ' the company said in response to a query from Reuters.

'The working of a democratic society depends on the members of that society being informed and not misinformed'.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said Thursday the passage of the bill is a "hammer blow against the independence of many on-line news portals" and "will have a chilling effect on internet freedom throughout Southeast Asia".

"It criminalizes free speech and allows the government nearly unfettered power to censor dissent", he added.

Pritam Singh, leader of the Workers' Party - Singapore's lone opposition party in parliament - who had strenuously objected to the new law for giving ministers too much power, had called for a division in which each MP's vote is recorded.

But the bill was passed despite their objections, as Singapore's parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by the governing People's Action Party. The International Commission of Jurists has said the bill "does not provide any real definition of "false statement of fact" and does not clarify what constitutes "public interest".

Criticising the "extraordinary amount of power [that is put] in the hands of individual ministers" and the "limited scope of judicial oversight and the lack of robust safeguards in the appeal process", AIC expressed "strong reservations on specific provisions - reservations that are shared by veteran journalists, legal experts, academics and human rights representatives".

He added: "The Government is confident that most Singaporeans understand the Bill's main thrust".

In 2018, Singapore was ranked 151st out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index, behind countries such as Afghanistan, Russia and Myanmar.

To regulate such fake news in the web, the Singapore Government has come up with a law.

Other reports by iNewsToday