Singapore's anti-fake news Bill 'frighteningly broad', say activists

  • ASEAN+
  • Tuesday, 02 Apr 2019

PETALING JAYA: Human rights activists have said that Singapore's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is "frighteningly broad" and "dangerous".

In a tweet on Monday (April 1), Singaporean journalist and activist Kirsten Han said that the proposed legislation is "frighteningly broad" and will give government ministers "so much power."

In a follow-up tweet, Han points out that any minister can order content to be altered or blocked if they believe it is in the public interest.

"Any Minister can order content to be corrected/removed/access blocked, if they think it's in the public interest to do so. Definition of 'public interest' includes 'friendly relations' with other countries, preventing 'diminution of public confidence' in the government," said Han.

Similar views were shared by Southeast Asian Press Alliance executive director (Seapa) Tess Bacalla in an article on Tuesday (April 2), saying that the Singaporean government "is setting itself up as the arbiter of truth and falsehood".

"This bill clearly demonstrates that the government is setting itself up as the arbiter of truth and falsehood – a manifestly dangerous proposition, especially for a society that is already reeling from a raft of repressive laws," said Bacalla.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson says that it gives autocrats another weapon to hinder freedom of speech.

"You're basically giving the autocrats another weapon to restrict speech, and speech is pretty restricted in the region already," said Robertson.

Channel News Asia had reported that "in tabling the bill, the Law Ministry said it is intended to protect society from the damage caused by deliberate online falsehoods and fake accounts used to spread such falsehoods."

The Bill was tabled in Singapore's Parliament on Monday (April 1).

According to news reports, the Bill seeks to address "deliberate online falsehoods" through content corrections, social media account restrictions, and code of practice for platforms.

For severe cases of "deliberate online falsehoods", penalties of up to 10 years in jail and fines of up to SG$1mil will be imposed.

In Malaysia, fake news is still a crime and is the only nation with an anti-fake news legislation in South-East Asia, as reported by Seapa.

Last year, Malaysia tried but failed to repeal the anti-fake news law due to mounting criticism.

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