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The “Fake News” law raises fresh questions about Singapore's tech and media hub status

According to the protection of online voting and manipulation bills, it will be illegal to spread "false factual circumstances" in Singapore, where this information is "detrimental" to Singapore's security, public security, "public peace" or to "Friendship relations in Singapore with others countries "among many other topics.Persons found liable to violate the law may receive fines of up to SGD 50,000 (over $ 36,000) and, or up to five years in prison. If "fake news" is posted with "a fake online account or controlled by a fine", the total potential fine will rise to SGD 100,000 (about $ 73,000) and, or, up to 10 years in prison.Companies like Facebook, if they are obliged to spread "false news", may receive fines of up to SGD 1 million (about $ 735,000). What exactly constitutes "a false fact" should be defined by the government, which may then choose to impose a correction, deletion of the existing post or to take legal action against the poster or social network. Singapore has a poor record of press freedom. In the latest World Rankings on Press Freedom of Guardians Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Singapore was ranked 151 out of 180 countries, among the worst positions of a country that considers itself a democracy. Human Rights Watch Asia's Deputy CEO Phil Robertson told CNN that he expected the new bill – ahead of the election later this year – to be used for "political purposes". "The Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with…

According to the protection of online voting and manipulation bills, it will be illegal to spread “false factual circumstances” in Singapore, where this information is “detrimental” to Singapore’s security, public security, “public peace” or to “Friendship relations in Singapore with others countries “among many other topics.

Persons found liable to violate the law may receive fines of up to SGD 50,000 (over $ 36,000) and, or up to five years in prison. If “fake news” is posted with “a fake online account or controlled by a fine”, the total potential fine will rise to SGD 100,000 (about $ 73,000) and, or, up to 10 years in prison.

Companies like Facebook, if they are obliged to spread “false news”, may receive fines of up to SGD 1

million (about $ 735,000).

What exactly constitutes “a false fact” should be defined by the government, which may then choose to impose a correction, deletion of the existing post or to take legal action against the poster or social network.

Singapore has a poor record of press freedom. In the latest World Rankings on Press Freedom of Guardians Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Singapore was ranked 151 out of 180 countries, among the worst positions of a country that considers itself a democracy.

Human Rights Watch Asia’s Deputy CEO Phil Robertson told CNN that he expected the new bill – ahead of the election later this year – to be used for “political purposes”.

“The Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with as false and misleading,” he said.

The bill is supported by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and is almost certain to hand over the ruling party to the dominated parliament.

In addition to general serious peace issues, it will also raise serious issues for international technology and media companies that call Singapore homes, including Facebook, Google and the BBC, all of which are headquartered in Asia. While CNN has no editorial presence in Singapore, the parent company WarnerMedia has offices in the city.

The international presence can make these companies subject to pressure from the Singapore government and potentially place employees at risk of being prosecuted if they fail to comply with the new law.

Facebook’s Director of Public Policy for Asia and the Pacific, Simon Milner, said that while the company basically supported regulation for spreading online lies, it was concerned about the law granting “broad powers to the Singapore Executive Branch to force us to remove content that they consider to be fake and proactively publicly report to users. “

CNN has reached out to Google and the BBC for comment.

“Serious problem”

The new Singaporean bill follows a pattern of governments around the world, but especially in Asia, seizes legitimate concerns about false news and other issues to cross new laws critics say are designed to clamp on online expressions.

 Officials say this law is about online security. Experts say it is a Trojan horse for internet censorship

In January, Fiji adopted a new law on online security critics saying it is a “Trojan horse” for censorship on the internet, since 2017 in the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia worry about “false news “has been used to motivate new presses on the media. Malaysia has since lifted its false news law, but the other countries continue to defend them as necessary to protect citizens online. China, the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship, has been worried about online hot information to defend its own violent controls of freedom of expression.

Speaking Friday at an anniversary event for Channel NewsAsia, Singapore PM Lee said fake news was a “serious problem for many countries.”

He defended the new law as giving government “power to keep online news sources and platforms accountable if they spread intentional online games”.

“This includes having to show corrections or display warnings about online solicitation, so readers or viewers can see all pages and take a stand on the matter. In extreme and urgent cases, legislation also requires online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done, “he said.

“If we do not protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it simple to turn different groups against each other and cause disorder in our society.”

Lee did not mention potential prison sentences or large fines for spreading “false news” or the fears that international media might have about operating in Singapore under the new law.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Singapore Department of Justice did not respond to the request for comment on this article.

K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s lawyer, said in a press release that the government would protect freedom of speech and said that takedown orders would be rare, according to the Wall Street Journal. “I think the reality of legacies and hate speech and harmful content on the internet is a reality here to stay,” he said. “We must handle it as best we can.”

 Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the plenary session on the opening day of the Argentina G20 Leaders & # 39; Summit 2018 on Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Dangerous Legislation”

While Lee and other government officials have defended the bill as necessary to protect Singaporeans online, it has been met with massive opposition from technologies, media, and human rights groups.

In a statement, Jeff Paine, CEO of Asia Internet Coalition – whose members include Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and other major technical companies – said the bill, Singapore gives the government complete room for beauty over what is considered true or false. “

“As the most extensive legislation of its kind to date, this level of abuse poses significant risks to freedom of speech and speech and can have serious consequences both in Singapore and around the world.”

In a statement to Parliament, Singapore Press Holdings, the country’s largest media organization, warned that a broad interpretation of “false news” could lead to “fear among citizens of expressing their views freely or participating in robust and constructive debates, or even to self-censorship of news exhibitions cautious about falling into law with the law. “

Kirsten Han, editor of the Singaporean news site New Naratif, warned that” (anti-fake news) invoice is very broad, giving sweeping powers to the government with limited controls and balances. “

“This means that the government can be the arbiter of truth, if they want to,” she wrote in a newsletter Monday.

The new naratifen says that there has been considerable pressure from the Singapore government, which last year refused to allow it to register as a private company because of funding it receives from abroad, which the government said would run counter to national interests .

He spoke to CNN and said the government had wanted to go through such legislation for some time.

“The problems that technical companies have had with fake news and hate speech have given them a good opportunity to justify the need for such laws,” she said.

She predicted that the way in which the law was drafted could crush many common Singaporeans even though their posts did not technically conflict with it.

“(The bill) gives the ministers so much room to demand corrections, takedowns and access to be blocked.” He said. According to the law, people can appeal the order, but He expressed concern about the ability of ordinary people to afford such legal cases.

“How many Singaporeans will have the resources or desire to bring the matter to court and get (government) direction reversed and a Facebook post / article / blog post was reinstated?”

 Singapore's Supertree Grove is seen under a light show. The city state is proud of its technical savviness, but often goes hand in hand with heavy censorship.

What censorship?

Singapore has long controlled both media and online expressions, despite the city’s judges of international technology companies.

“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government reacts quickly to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue them, apply pressure to make them unemployed, or even force them to leave the country, the media watchdog RSF says in a new report on the country.

“The media development authority has the authority to censor all forms of journalistic content. Paralysis suits are common in the city state and can sometimes be accompanied by a charge of vomiting, punished by up to 21 years in prison. “

Last year, the ruling People & # 39; Action Party (PAP) described a press freedom report in Singapore by Human Rights Watch as a” kind of deliberate lie “and” an example of how false and misleading impressions can be created by a selective presentation of facts, designed to promote an underlying agenda. “The agenda that PAP said was” changing Singapore’s society – in the way it wishes. “

The statements were made in a basis to the chosen committee that drafted the new anti-counterfeit news account. that future HRW reports are considered to spread “intentional legacies” could see the targeted group, the perfect way for Singapore to defend against the group’s claims that it adopts “serious limitations of freedom of speech”

Phil Robertson, HRW- the director told CNN that if the bill goes into law in its current form, “I expect them to go after us”.

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