New law against fake news limits Government's power, says Law Ministry

Fake News

The Ministry of Law Singapore said on Thursday that a proposed law to combat fake news will narrow the Government's powers.

On April 1, when draft legislation, Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMB) was introduced, critics stated that it would be a weapon which can be used against people, who stand against the government. However, the bill is due for a second reading which will take place on Monday, May 6.

The main aim of POFMB is to restrain the surge of fake news using regulatory tools as well as criminal sanctions. It should be noted that the Republic has existing laws which allow the Government to block access to sites like tech giant Google and social media dominators such as Facebook and Twitter and to take down fake posts. But the bill gives the power to the cabinet to take actions against false statements of any fact.

As per Today Online, Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal stated that "false statement of fact" and "public interest" are widely defined under the bill and that the line between fact and opinion is not always clear. He also added that the bill to combat online fake news sets a low bar for ministers to use their powers.

On Tuesday in a joint statement, three NMPs, Anthea Ong, Irene Quay and Associate Professor Walter Theseira suggested amendments to the draft fake news laws, such as:

  • including a clause that sets out key principles that guide the exercise of powers.
  • requirement that any directions issued are publicly justified
  • requirement that the appeal process is expedited
  • the creation of an independent council to monitor online falsehoods and provide routine oversight on the use of executive powers under the new Act

Senior Counsel Siraj Omar, in his remarks, said that there are some valuable points which were overlooked by some commentators. It "does seek to scope down and calibrate the Government's powers in key areas," he said.

He also stated that POFMB limits the scope of the government's powers as it allows a right to appeal instead of a right for judicial review. Later, Law Minister K Shanmugam's press secretary, Teo Wan Gek, said that the ministry will consider the suggestions he made on the new law to fight online falsehoods.

Related topics : Fake news