Singapore Government faces fresh calls to scale back ‘sweeping’ fake news powers

The Singapore Government has faced fresh calls to amend its controversial attempts to combat fake news amid concerns the measures are too sweeping and will threaten free speech.

As the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill receives its second reading this week, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has reiterated the need to scale back the legislation.

The current bill before parliament gives the Government far-reaching powers and is a “grave threat to freedom of expression”, the organisation said.

“While states have a right and a duty to guard against content online, the vague language in this bill means it is easily open to abuse,” APHR chairman and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago said.

“MPs in Singapore must use the second reading of the bill this week to push for significant changes that bring it in line with international human rights standards.”

The Government has continually insisted the laws will not hamper comment and opinion and are purely designed to eradicate the spread of misinformation.

But a key area of concern lies in terminology contained in the bill – such as “false statements of fact” and “public interest” – that some believe is too vague. It is feared that under the new laws, Singapore’s government will determine what is factual news and what is not.

APHR said the lack of clarity makes ministers the “sole arbiters” of what statements are in the public interest and gives authorities “sweeping powers which are not subject to judicial review”.

“The proposed fake news bill flies in the face of international standards on freedom of expression,” Santiago said. “It is difficult to see how this is not just another attempt by the authorities to silence debate.

“This bill would simply have the effect of discouraging people from voicing their views in fear of violating the law and facing heavy penalties.

“There is still time to appropriately revise this bill to comply with international law and ensure that Singapore is a country in which freedom of expression is respected.”

Fines of up to $1 million could be imposed for those who flout the laws.



Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing