The Singapore government doesn’t do things in small measures. This much we know.
The proposed fake news laws, when enacted, will be the most sweeping and far reaching in the world.
When government ministers get to play judge and jury over what is fake and what is true, their power is sweeping and the effect chilling.
Under the proposed news laws to combat fake news, with jail terms of up to 10 years, ministers are given broad powers to determine what is online falsehood and punish those who create and spread them.
Under the 77-page Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, all ministers can issue a variety of orders, such as ordering the publisher to take down an article or ordering Internet service providers to disable user access to errant sites.
Ministers will also be able to order that the revenue streams of errant online news sites be cut off.
Anyone accused of peddling falsehoods, including individuals and tech companies, can appeal to the High Court. Which means that you have to comply with the orders first, and are guilty until proven innocent.
Mainstream media reports say that what Singapore is doing is part of the global trend. They cite two other countries – France and Australia.
Let’s look at these countries then.
Last November, the French Parliament passed a new law empowering judges to order the immediate removal of fake news during election campaigns. So this was very limited in scope and even then, critics slammed the law for jeopardising democracy and censoring the media.
Australia, on the other hand, is looking to legislate new laws aimed primarily at preventing social media platforms from being “weaponised” by terrorists and extremists who may use them to live-stream violent crimes, such as the recent terror attack in New Zealand.
The bottom line is, no fake news legislation – either enacted or in the process of being enacted – is as sweeping as the one that Singapore is tabling before Parliament.
However, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam’s assurance was that the proposed new laws “encourages free speech because there are more viewpoints for you to have rather than be restricted and what is said to be just false.”
Let’s try and get that right – it takes sweeping news laws with a chilling effect, giving broad powers to the government, unprecedented anywhere in the world, to encourage free speech?
Just think about that for a moment.