The “Fake News Bill” in Singapore has been published and is due for debate in Parliament next month before it becomes law. Theoretically, a bill will not come into effect unless the Members of Parliament (MPs) agree.
However, as far as I remember, I do not think there’s been a single bill debated in Singapore’s Parliament that has not been passed. Looking at past examples, it is perhaps safe to assume that this “Fake News Bill” will get Parliamentary assent and become law.
Is it because this bill is such a wonderful piece of legislation that will benefit Singaporeans? Or is it a quirk of our one party system where the dominant Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) has the advantage of being able to require that all of its MPs vote in favour of bills that the PAP favours?
Looking at the “Fake News Bill” in its current form, it is hard not to feel a shudder up one’s spine for it gives the ruling PAP government far ranging powers to curb and control every word and deed which would not just curtail untruths but could lead to a blanket ban on anything it may not like.
How is this beneficial for Singapore? Could it be construed that this benefits party over state? Perhaps, I am obtuse, but I fail to see how an inability to criticise the government for fear that it be branded “fake news” benefits Singaporeans at all. Rather, it would appear that an inability to openly question the ruling PAP party would ensure that any mistakes it may make be kept under wraps -something that only benefits the PAP.
Most disturbing of all is the language found in Clauses 6 and 7 of the said Bill. Clause 6 basically says that the Minister will have the right to appoint a Competent Authority to make decisions around what constitutes “fake news”.
It goes on further to say that such Competent Authority must give effect to the instructions of the Minister. Unless I have a reading problem, this essentially spells out boldly that where alleged “fake news” is concerned, they can “ownself check ownself”! Does this not mean that there is a huge opportunity for abuse? Where is the objective third party?
Clause 7 goes on to say that “a person must not do any act in or outside Singapore in order to communicate in Singapore a statement knowing or having reason to believe….”
What does “having reason to believe” mean? How do you determine that? It isn’t a question of fact but a question of opinion whether or not “someone has reason to believe”. On whose opinion is it then? The Minister’s? Surely the potential for self serving actions run high?
Sadly, until and unless we have a larger proportion of opposition MPs in Parliament, our ability to prevent such legislation from passing is limited.