Three Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) – namely Ms Anthea Ong, Ms Irene Quay, and Associate Professor Walter Theseira – have issued a Notice of Amendment to the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill which was was introduced early last month.
Among the NMPs’ suggested amendments to the Bill, listed in a joint statement yesterday (30 Apr), are the following:
- A clause that sets out key principles (“Principles of the Act”) that guide the exercise of powers under the Act, including codifying the aim that the Act is targeted at statements that are materially false and not opinions, comments, critiques, satire, parody, generalisations or statements of experiences);
- Requirements that any Directions issued are publicly justified;
- Requirements that the appeals process is expedited; and
- The creation of an independent Council (“ICOF”) to monitor online falsehoods and provide routine oversight on the use of executive powers under the Act, and whose members shall be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament.
“The Principles of Act”, according to the NMPs, suggest that “well-informed, free, and critical speech is necessary for a well-functioning democracy, so the Act should be applied carefully to avoid chilling such speech”.
“It sets out that the Act should be used in a proportionate way, so the least restrictive tools (such as Corrections) are used first, with the most restrictive (“Take-downs”) used only if necessary,” they suggested.
The Principles of Act, the NMPs argued, will also guard the role of research in society, as “research often contests established facts or ideas in order to advance knowledge, by stating that differences in facts established by an authority and a researcher do not imply falsehood just by that difference alone”.
The NMPs also stated that while they “agree with the legislative intent of” the Bill, given how online falsehoods “can harm the public interest, even when there is no malevolent intent”, they were also of the opinion that the Bill is “far-reaching” in its scope in controlling “online communications”, as it may be “used by the Executive and future governments to suppress or chill debate and expression for political purposes”.
Despite the Government’s assurance that the Bill will not be used to muzzle legitimate discourse and criticism, the three NMPs observed that the proposed Act “does not contain such assurances that limit how the Bill’s powers can be used”, in addition to having “broadly worded clauses defining what is a false statement and what constitutes public interest”.
“We are concerned that these broadly worded clauses give the Executive considerable discretion to take action against online communications, without protection in the primary legislation that codifies the assurances given by the Government in explaining the Bill to the public,” said the NMPs.
Read the full joint statement of the three NMPs below: