New Anti-“fake news” Bill attempts to manipulate civic discourse, it is “concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users”. The Asia Internet Coalition says the law gives the Singapore Government full discretion over what is considered true or false, and “this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech”. Study first the origins of “fake news” since the start of internet and consult the public before drafting the law. Contributed by Oogle.
Despite Law Minister K. Shanmugam’s assurance that the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill does not “deal with opinions” or “viewpoints”, and that Singaporeans “can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable”, media practitioners and civil rights organisations have expressed concern over the introduction of the Bill in Parliament on Mon (1 Apr).
Kirsten Han, editor-in-chief of Southeast Asian journalism platform New Naratif told New York Times in an email: “The bill gives ministers so much power and discretion — any minister can direct individuals or websites to post corrections or take down content, or order access to content to be blocked, and these orders have to be complied with first, even if one is going to appeal the direction in the courts”.
Deputy Asia Director of human rights organisation Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson wrote in an email: “This draft law will be a disaster for human rights, particularly freedom of expression and media press.
“The definitions in the law are broad and poorly defined, leaving maximum regulatory discretion to the government officers skewed to view as “misleading” or “false” any news that challenges Singapore’s preferred political narratives.
“Heavy fines to compel compliance combined with wide-ranging extraterritoriality makes this bill a danger to rights in Singapore as well as internet freedom and expression in Asia and the world.
“Governments and companies around the world should tell Singapore to send this law back to the drafting board,” said Mr Robertson.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at a gala dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of CNA on Fri (29 Mar) that under the new Bill, the Government will have the authority to instruct online news platforms to “show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter”.
“In extreme and urgent cases”, added Mr Lee, “the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done”.
Managing Director of Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) Jeff Paine said on Mon that it is gravely disappointed “by the lack of meaningful opportunities for public consultation during the drafting process” of the Bill, “given the significant implications it could have for diverse stakeholders, including industry, media and civil society, in Singapore, the region and internationally”.
Stressing that “prescriptive legislation should not be the first solution in addressing what is a highly nuanced and complex issue”, he warned that the Bill’s overreaching scope will grant the Singapore government “full discretion over what is considered true or false”.
“As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world,” added Mr Paine.
Noting that it “will be studying the bill in the coming days”, AIC – which includes Facebook, Twitter and Google – said that it will continue to work “closely with the Government and other stakeholders to tackle misinformation”, while also expressing its hope “that the enforcement of this legislation will not be at the expense of the benefits that public debate and exchange of ideas can bring”.
Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Asia-Pacific Simon Milner said that the social media giant was “concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users”.
The company added that while the Bill “already reflects a number of investments” it has made in the process of fighting the spread of “false news and disrupt attempts to manipulate civic discourse”, it is “concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users”.
A Twitter spokesperson told CNA that the company is “still reviewing” the Bill “to assess its implications”, while a Google spokesperson said in response to the tabling of the Bill: “(We) urge the government to allow for a full and transparent consultation on the proposed legislation”.
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