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Fake news laws loom in Singapore as 22 proposals are put to government

The Singapore Government has been asked to draw up fake news legislation after a select committee report stressed the spread of false information was a “live and serous threat”.

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods made 22 recommendations in a report to Parliament, six months after a public hearing was held to debate the issue.

The recommendations, which were agreed in principle by the Government, did not detail specific measures but were broad in their remit.

Among the proposals outlined in the report was a need to educate the public, the promotion of better fact checking, and the disruption of falsehoods that spread online.

While specific detail was vague, it is understood powers could extend to taking down content and blocking access.

Laws could even extend to cutting off digital advertising revenue to individuals or organisations who are deemed to be spreading fake news. In serious cases, criminal action could follow.

Technology companies were warned to expect legislation specifically relating to online news.

“Legislation would be needed particularly for measures to be taken in response to an online falsehood, since Facebook, Google and Twitter have a policy of generally not acting against content on the basis that it is false,” the report said.

Singapore minister of communications and information, Dr Janil Puthucheary, told a press conference that fake news “threatens our national security”.

He said “malicious actors” have been pushing the boundaries.

“They essentially have been looking for different ways to weaponise falsehoods on the Internet, ” he said. “This phenomenon has grown in strength and has resulted in consequences in various parts of the world.”

Puthucheary said other countries were taking action, adding that Singapore is “doing our best to act early”.

The Government said it would examine the recommendations before drawing up laws.

Other recommendations in the report included credible fact-checking initiatives to rapidly tackle falsehoods and the speedy clarifications of information by organisations.

It suggested media firms could collaborate on fact checking to combat the spread of fake news.

But according to reports, the committee acknowledged the laws should not over-reach or gag free speech.

Warren Fernandez

“It is important that they be accompanied by checks and balances,” the committee said.

Responding to the recommendations, the editor of The Straits Times, Warren Fernandez, said: “SPH believes good journalism, which is credible and trusted by our readers, as well as informed and media savvy citizens, are key answers to the challenge of dealing with fake news.

“We are glad that our proposals have been taken on board by the committee. We stand ready to work with other media players to contribute to this wherever possible.”

Han Yong May, Editor of SPH’s Chinese Newshub, added: “With the prevalence of deliberate online falsehoods, it is important for professional journalism to make the distinction between what is real and what is not.

“Establishing a fact-checking coalition will be helpful in raising awareness and curbing the spread of harmful falsehoods that affect our social and national interests.

“SPH’s Chinese media platforms reach out to a broad audience, engaging them with quality content. We will continue to actively promote media literacy and public education in our reporting to debunk deliberate online falsehoods.”

Mediacorp said it was still studying the report.

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