While Singaporeans are still processing the contents of the “fake news” bill, which is likely to become law after being debated in Parliament some time this month, it would appear that the government has already started to take actions as if the bill has already become law. It would appear that the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has taken part in an event that was held at Tao Payoh Central hub to educate the public on what constitutes “fake news”.
A few questions immediately arise. Firstly, why are government affiliated outfits already taking action on a bill that is not yet law? Are they so sure that it will definitely pass and if so, does this not point to a glaring gap in our Parliamentary processes? Is Parliament just a rubber stamp for what the political establishment wants?
At the event, it was reportedly said that the public “should not believe information or news that they receive from other small or independent media, including Mothership.” This begs the question – are the authorities using fake news to educate the public on fake news? On what basis are they saying that the smaller independent media outlets are not believable? According to Clause 7 of the “fake news” bill, “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” is untrue. Accordingly, doesn’t a baseless and unsubstantiated statement on the credibility of small independent media outlet run foul of its own bill?
It was also reportedly said at the event that the public “should trust mainstream media like The Straits Times (ST) and the Government.” On what basis is this statement made? Given that mainstream media such as ST have clearly made mistakes and errors in the past, isn’t this exhortation of trust also “fake news”?
Before the bill has even had its day in Parliament, is it perhaps a tad too early to be holding such educational events?
Secondly, if and when the bill becomes law, will it be used across both sides of the fence? Will mainstream media such as the ST also be held to account for all of its mistakes and careless reporting? Or will it only be used as a battering ram against smaller outlets which may be perceived to be more critical of the government? For any law to have credibility, it has to be used evenly across the board.