The proposal of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) have people concerned over the scope of the legislation. Many have argued that the law could severely restrict not only freedom of the press but also freedom of speech in Singapore overall.
Ministers have assured the public that they need not worry. In fact, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugan said that the law only applies to facts, not opinion, satire, parody or comments. He added, “99% of the people don’t have to worry about what they do 99% of the time”, saying that messages received and shared isn’t an issue.
However, the Law Minister nor any other government official has commented or clarified the extent of POFMA’s reach.
Reading the proposed bill, it defines ‘communicate’ as ‘a statement or material communicated in Singapore if it is made available to one or more end-users in Singapore on or through the internet’ which includes MMS or SMS.
Under the offence, if a person communicates a statement that they know or have reason to believe is false, they are liable to a fine not exceeding S$50,000 (S$500,000 for groups/companies) or up to 5 years imprisonment or both.
Other than being charged for communicating false statements, you can also be charged for communicating statements that:
Leaving aside for a minute how the government will differentiate between actual falsehoods and mere inaccuracies (which is also not outlined in the proposed legislation) and why it is illegal to diminish public confidence in the government when they deserves the heat, the bill describes ‘communicate’ as being via MMS/SMS or the internet. This would essentially include private messages between friends, family, or in group chats on internet based platforms like WhatsApp, FB Messenger, WeChat, or LINE.
MMS is defined as a system that enables the transmission, through a mobile network, of multimedia messages; SMS is defined as a system that enables the transmission, through a mobile network, of text messages.
It’s no wonder then why the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC) were among the first to issue a strong statement in response to the introduction of POFMA in Parliament expressing their concerns that the proposed bill would afford the Singapore government full discretion to decide on what is true or false.
The AIC is an industry association comprising leading internet and technology companies. Its members are namely: Apple, Facebook, Google, Expedia group, Amazon, LINE, Linkedin, Rakuten, airbmb, Twitter, Yahoo! and Booking.com. Should POFMA be enacted, these companies would surely be affected and required to follow the law if they do not wish to be penalised.
It’s also not surprising why Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Mediacorp have remained largely silent on the various statements of concerns on POFMA by groups in Singapore and around the globe. SPH and Mediacorp didn’t even report on AIC’s statement. Already, self-censorship appears to be settling in and POFMA hasn’t even been enacted yet.
Don’t believe what you are told here? Download and view the full proposed bill from the Parliament website here.