On Tuesday (April 9), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the newly proposed bill to counter online falsehoods “works for Singapore” despite receiving criticism from various parties.
“I’m not surprised that Reporters Without Borders criticised it; they criticise many things about Singapore’s media management. But what we have done has worked for Singapore and it’s our objective to continue to do things which will work for Singapore. And I think POFMA will be a significant step forward in this regard,” said PM Lee responding to a question asked by a member of the media on the Bill, while attending the joint press conference held after the leaders retreat hosted in Putrajaya by Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad.
Earlier, Reporters Without Borders had heavily criticised the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) as “a major obstacle to the freedom to inform in Singapore” and it gives government officials “an almost entirely free hand to control content circulating online”.
PM Lee also added that Singapore is not the only country that has taken legislating on this matter as countries like France, Germany and even Australia have done it. This is because deliberate online falsehoods has become a serious problem and this is one way to manage it.
Responding to the same question asked by the reporter, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia is to do away with its anti-fake news law as the government has promised to its people that it would do so.
Although he admits that social media can be abused quite seriously, but the Malaysian government will “have to learn how to handle such fake news”, he said.
PM Mahathir added, “But when we have a law that prevents people from airing their views, we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law like what has happened in the last government.”
Both prime ministers also responded to questions concerning the bilateral ties and water issues between both countries at the conference.
PM Lee was in Malaysia to kicks off a two-day visit to Putrajaya to attend a Leaders’ Retreated hosted by PM Mahathir, which is an important platform for prime ministers of both countries to discuss bilateral issues and explore new areas of cooperation.
After reading about PM Lee defending POMFA, over 200 comments were received on CNA’s Facebook page where many people have pointed out their disappointments. They opined that this law only works for his party, People’s Action Party (PAP), and not Singapore. Some noted that Singaporeans have voted for the ruling government but they are now creating new laws to control the citizens’ freedom of speech and expression.
Ted Tan emphasised that saying that the anti-fake news works for Singapore is false proposition as the law has not even been implemented yet. He added that the government is “simply codifying what they want to do for a long time”, which is to get the final say in any criticism.
On the other hand, online users commended PM Mahathir’s take on the anti-fake news law. They agreed to what he said about the government who can actually abuse the bill in order to silence criticism. Therfore, they pleaded not to pass the law.