Singapore passes fake news bill after days of debate

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Singapore, May 9 (IANS) Singapore parliament has passed a comprehensive piece of legislation to combat fake news, after a marathon two-day debate, amid criticism from opponents and activists who consider it an attack on freedom of expression, the media reported on Thursday.

The legislation titled, “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill”, is not a political tool for the ruling party to wield power, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam after it was passed late Wednesday night, but is about shaping the kind of society that Singapore should be, The Straits Times reported.

“(Debates) should be based on a foundation of truth, foundation of honour, and foundation where we keep out the lies, that’s what this is about.

“It’s not about the Workers’ Party or the PAP (People’s Action Party) or today, it’s about Singapore,” Shanmugam said responding to the 31 MPs who spoke during the debate on the draft law aimed at protecting society from fake news that harms public interest.

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At around 10.20 p.m., the Bill was passed with 72 MPs saying “yes”, nine WP MPs saying “no”, and three Nominated MPs abstaining.

The legislation will allow the government to decide what information is listed as false based on two criteria: when a false statement or announcement is issued, and when this action is considered to be of public interest.

The law, which according to the authorities will not apply to opinion, criticism, satire or parody, provides for a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $733,000.

Pritam Singh, leader of the Workers’ Party — Singapore’s lone opposition party in parliament — who had strenuously objected to the new law for giving ministers too much power, had called for a division in which each MP’s vote is recorded.

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The bill was also criticised by the Amnesty International’s East and South East Asia Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin, saying that it will give the authorities more power to repress their critics, reports Efe news.

Asia Internet Coalition said it was “deeply disappointed” by the lack of public consultation during the drafting process.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week defended the measures by describing them as necessary to protect Singapore with the aim of avoiding “hostile” interference intended to “cause disorder in our society”.

Singapore, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, has been criticised on numerous occasions for its tight control of public and private media.

In 2018, Singapore was ranked 151st out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, behind countries such as Afghanistan, Russia and Myanmar.

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–IANS

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