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S'pore's draft laws to curb fake news a 'significant step': PM Lee

PUTRAJAYA — Many countries grapple with fake news and online falsehoods, and Singapore’s proposed laws to tackle the problem will work for the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (April 9).

S'pore's draft laws to curb fake news a 'significant step': PM Lee

Singapore

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PUTRAJAYA — Many countries grapple with fake news and online falsehoods, and Singapore’s proposed laws to tackle the problem will work for the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (April 9).

He was responding to a question from a journalist with news site Malaysiakini at a press conference after meeting his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad at a leaders’ retreat in Putrajaya.

Mr Lee was asked to respond to global criticism of the recently tabled Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which included international rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders stating that the bill would be a “horrifying tool for censoring and intimidating online media outlets and Internet users” as the Singapore Government will have an “almost entirely free hand” to control online content. 

Mr Lee said he was not surprised that Reporters Without Borders had criticised Singapore’s draft laws, as they had previously done so with Singapore’s management of the media.

“But what we have done has worked for Singapore, and it is our objective to continue to do things which will work for Singapore. And I think (the Bill) will be a significant step forward in this regard,” he added. 

When passed into law, the Bill — introduced in Parliament last week — will give government ministers broad powers to stop the spread of online falsehoods and act against those who disseminate them.

Malaysia is “moving in the opposite direction”, having promised to abolish its Anti-Fake News Act, the Malaysiakini journalist noted.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore is not the only country that has drawn up legislation on this issue.

France and Germany have laws to deal with fake news, while Australia plans to do so soon.

In the aftermath of last month's mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Australian government also announced plans to introduce laws that would prevent social media platforms from being “weaponised” to livestream violent crimes.

The British authorities, too, are mulling over regulating harmful online content.

In Singapore’s case, Mr Lee said that it deliberated over the issue for nearly two years.

This entailed setting up a parliamentary committee to study deliberate online falsehoods, which then published a report with recommendations on how to fight the scourge.

MALAYSIA ON TRACK TO ABOLISH FAKE-NEWS LAWS

Meanwhile, the incumbent Malaysian government has promised to repeal its Anti-Fake News Act, which was passed in Parliament under the previous Barisan Nasional government in April last year.

About four months after it was passed, Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan government — which came to power in May last year — pushed for its repeal. While it was passed in the Dewan Rakyat or lower house of parliament, the Dewan Negara or the upper house rejected the move in September last year.

On Tuesday, Dr Mahathir said his government promised to do away with the laws, which critics said curtailed press freedom and were rushed through parliament, because this was “what the people want and we respect the people who voted us into power”.

“When we have a law that prevents people from airing their views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law, as has happened in the last government,” he said.

While he acknowledged that it would be difficult to tackle fake news, Dr Mahathir said that the country does not want present or future governments to make use of the law to spread or create fake news to sustain themselves.

“It will be difficult to handle. But we believe that we can accept the challenges and we can handle them,” added Dr Mahathir.

 

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fake news Lee Hsien Loong Mahathir Mohamad

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