Brad Bowyer, a recently-well-known political activist, took to his Facebook on Monday (29 April) to question Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on a number of different concerns he has about the newly proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
It was reported by The Straits Times that the Minister said that the proposed fake news bill is only targeted to those who create fake news, and not to the individuals who disseminate them.
He assured that the fake news laws does not target opinions, criticism, satire or parody, hence, “everyone need not be overly worried” about it.
While speaking at the Singapore Buddhist Federation’s Vesak Day celebration event at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, Mr Ong also explained that it’s crucial to have strict laws to stop speech and actions that try to bring apart people of different religions and races.
“We are not immune to hate speech and falsehoods that are deliberately created and spread with malicious intent to sow discord among the different communities. What we enjoy today is because of, and not despite of, all the efforts we invested to maintain social and racial harmony. We shall not take it for granted,” the Minister said.
Ever since the Bill was proposed in the Parliament on 1 April, it raised a lot of concerns and criticisms among the public, saying that it could lead to self-censorship and limit free speech. As such, Mr Ong said that the Government will address the people’s worries on the new laws, and provide them with detailed explanations.
“You ask, and we will answer, and we will solve these problems together,” he said.
However, combating fake news will take more than just the law, and it is important for the people to stand together to fight the spread of fake news. “I hope everyone will be on alert at all times, and verify news before spreading it to your friends and families,” said Mr Ong.
Since Mr Ong has given the green light to ask him questions regarding POFMA, Mr Bowyer wrote in his Facebook post a few concerns that he would like the Minister to answer.
If your POFMA bill is all about protecting social cohesion and stopping hate speech and terrorism, as this article and your speech suggests then why are so many of its clauses around Elections?
And why is every ministry involved in determining what’s “Fake or Misleading”? and not just Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)?
Under POFMA, ministers will be allowed to have the power to issue a correction direction or stop communication direction – basically to compel an individual or company/website to issue a correction of the ‘falsehood’ or remove the content entirely, if they say a certain content is fake.
However, there is no definition in the Bill to state what determines if a statement is false or who or what entity(ies) will determine the authenticity of the statement. This would mean the Minister can simply point at a statement of fact or any report, and say that it is fake.
On top of that, based on the reasons why the Education Minister thinks POFMA was proposed, the political activist then asked why he thinks the current “existing religious harmony laws or anti sedition laws, or the new proposed hate speech and doxing laws are not adequate” compared to the fake news laws that is “open to abuse is being rushed through”.
If that’s not all, Mr Bowyer also highlighted a bigger concern of why POFMA is not applied to everyone equally? This is because the proposed Bill puts any minister above the law as they are not only given the “power to choose what is fake or not but also allows him to determine who must obey it including themselves”.
In addition, he queried if the Minister is “not concern that the separation of powers is not only being blurred but being removed”. He explained that is because the ministers are being made the judge and jury with this Bill, and the authority of the courts are being overthrown. Besides that, the Government is also limiting the public’s recourse to the courts and the subject on what the courts can judge.
In his post, Mr Bowyer also went on to wonder if the Government knows that the fake news law will affect the country’s position in the “modern knowledge economy” as well as make Singapore an isolate island when companies and institute start to withdraw and pick another country to move to.
You are making this extraterritorial and wish to prosecute any person or any company anywhere in the world. Do you not think this egregious overreach of wanting to be the global internet policeman applying the law according to PAP is not only going to seriously effect our standing and place in the modern knowledge economy but also turn us in to an isolated island when all the tech companies and institutions that you target start withdrawing and leave us to stew in our own self-imposed censorship?
Finally, both domestically and internationally the warnings and ramifications are being shouted at you loudly and clearly and yet you refuse to listen. Why the stubborn drive to implement these laws against so much opposition and with so little faith in the people that you believe that they cannot judge for themselves what is right or wrong or in their interest or not?
TOC has written to Mr Ong for his comments on Mr Bowyer’s questions.