Reading an article which talks at length about how historian PJ Thum (Thum) has been misquoted by a Facebook page gave me some food for thought. Thum had said in earlier times that “Equally, your post could be completely accurate and factual, but could be deemed “misleading” because you omitted a fact (accidentally or otherwise). Given that it is impossible to include every single fact about any issue (especially if you are writing to a word limit), this guarantees that virtually anything can be deemed “misleading”.” This really resonates with me because it begs the pertinent question at the heart of the “Fake News” bill – “Does having an opinion that the authorities do not approve of equate to “fake news” under the “Fake News” bill?
Looking at how it is currently drafted, the answer would be yes.
The “Fake News” bill gives the police and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) the power to determine if something would constitute “fake news”. In short, if I have an opinion that may perhaps be based on an error or a different interpretation of fact, this can be deemed as “fake news” by the police and/or the AGC. In other words, it would be almost too easy for the authorities to determine that an opinion that is deemed damaging to the establishment as “fake news” when it may well be just a different opinion, albeit an opinion that is unpopular with the government. Since when is having an opinion unlawful?
What this bill can lead to if passed is that having an opinion that the government does not approve of could be deemed as criminal with severe punishment in some instances. Is this really what we want as part of our law?
Laws have to be clear and fair. Laws that are far ranging and subjective with the authorities having the power to “deem” intention essentially creates an atmosphere where no one dares to say anything that could be “deemed” as “fake news”. In this light, how can this not have a chilling effect on democracy and constructive criticism? If you are not sure whether what you say could run foul of the law, you could well come to the conclusion that you should say nothing at all.
How then is this good for the country? Wouldn’t citizens end up having zero ownership of their country and check out totally? This is not a good thing for the country even if it is perhaps beneficial for the ruling party. Where then will the checks and balances lie in a country which already has very little checks and balances in place?