Fake news law direly needed in S’pore?


Should S’poreans be concerned about a “fake news’ law?

I refer to Sulaiman Daud’s  article “We hope the Select Committee on fake news pays attention to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s speech” (Mothership, Jan 12).

It states that “We hope the Select Committee on fake news pays attention to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s speech

The NMP with the arts background went against the grain and raised some meaningful concerns.

So now we know who’s going to be on the Select Committee to investigate the problem of  fake news or what has been termed “deliberate online falsehoods”

The Committee of Selection announced the names of the 10 MPs who will take part on Jan. 11. We analysed what each member brought to the table, which you can read in the article below.

A note of concern

While supportive of the motion, NMP and theatre veteran Kok Heng Leun raised a number of concerns that are worth looking at more in-depth.

1. Difference between falsehoods and errors?

He began by saying that the Select Committee should not focus on errors made when one party has an honest belief in the facts, but instead on deliberate, malicious falsehoods.

He mentioned that in the UK, there was a call from Parliament for the public to define fake news, and one comment stuck with him.

“Where does biased but legitimate commentary shade into propaganda and lies?”

Kok mentioned that as the Government has advocated for a more active citizenry, with more Singaporeans speaking up through online platforms, it should take care not to silence dissenting voices.

“We do not want a heavy-handed approach that would rule out constructive, though at times disagreeable voices.”

2. Strike a balance

Kok said that if new legislation is introduced, it needs to balance the interests of protecting national security and preserving public order, with the interests of:

  • Enabling individuals to have meaningful discussions, including on government policies, without fear of having action taken against them.
  • Enabling the media, both professional and citizen journalists, to report on such issues of concern.”

I agree wholeheartedly and 100 per cent that we direly need a ‘fake news” law.

After all, we are already ranked 151st in the world for press freedom and we already have the following restrictions which arguably, curtails the freedom of expression:-

…  “Seditious tendency 3.—(1)  A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(ato bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government
– “(2)  Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other things shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency — (a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures” (Sedition Act)
… cannot write about an on going court case or police investigation? (Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill)
… cannot write about anything that may be deemed as harassment? (Protection from Harassment Act)
… cannot write about race, religion or nationalities or different classes of people?
– “(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore” (Sedition Act)
… cannot write about anything that may be deemed as defamatory? (Defamation Act)
… may not write about or use Lee Kuan Yew’s name or image or likeness in such a way as may be construed as “(not) accorded dignity and respect” (Guidelines of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY))
And who knows – perhaps in the not too distant future – the “fake news” law may in effect, translate for all practical purposes into yet another impediment and ‘instil fear” into the hands of Singaporeans when they want to write about what they think matters to Singaporeans.
By the way –  we may also need to be weary about writing about anything that may be construed as in some way, be related to “any evidence given, or any documents presented to the (a Select Parliamentary) committee, or extracts“?
Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.