The verdict is out and the Select Committee on fake news has issued its recommendations. For the purposes this article, I will not go into whether or not this Select Committee was necessary in the first place or whether or not the members of the Select Committee was appropriate. Others before me have already written at length on this. What I would like to go into now are the recommendations made by the Select Committee.
Bearing in mind that these are recommendations only and not law, it is imperative to remember that these are not yet set in stone. My question, therefore, is whether or not each of these recommendations will be actively debated in Parliament in an open and transparent way? Some of the recommendations made by the committee are intrusive with potentially far-reaching consequences for us as a society and as such should really be examined by MPs thoroughly before being imposed.
Take for example, the recommendation of giving the government the power to swiftly disrupt the dissemination of online falsehoods and punish those who deliberately start and spread them, through new laws. Will there be any safeguards to ensure that these legislative powers will not be misused to curb free speech and constructive criticism?
I note that the Select Committee said that such laws had to be carefully crafted to target only those who are knowingly and intentionally spreading such falsehoods. However, this is a very widely worded statement. What would constitute “carefully crafted”? Also, what is the benchmark for “knowingly and intentionally spreading falsehoods”? It is a concern that laws could and would be used to silence those asking questions to keep the authorities accountable.
Another example of an area of concern would be the recommendation to implement a framework of education in schools. On paper, it sounds like a good idea for schools to “impart critical thinking skills and include a broad-based curriculum with a component on the motivations and agendas of disinformation agents, their tactics and strategies.” However, could such a framework be used to spread propaganda to young minds?
The timing of the recommendations is also crucial. It is widely rumoured that there will be general elections next year. Will these recommendations be rushed through to mute negative coverage of the People’s Action Party party ahead of the election? I don’t know the answer although it is an arguable summation.
Given the potential for misuse, I hope that all the recommendations will be scrutinised by Parliament. Given that our government is predominantly made up of PAP members, I can only hope that our MPs will do what is best for Singapore as a country and not just to perpetuate the agendas of any party in power.
But that is just a hope, with over 90% of the MPs being from the ruling party, one can only expect a result similar to that of passed amendment to the Elected Presidency which ensured a walkover victory for the PAP endorsed candidate.