Minister of Law and Home Affairs saying that there is no civil liability for sharing of fake news.

Law Minister says there is no civil liability for sharing fake news, so why is Leong Sze Hian being sued for civil defamation?

On Thursday (9 May), tech and lifestyle site Vulcan Post posted a video where they had invited the Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to answer some questions asked by netizens regarding the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA).

One of the questions that was raised was whether an individual will go to jail if he or she shares a fake news.

As a reply, Mr Shanmugam clearly said that if a person receives a news and forward it in good faith, then there is no problem with it at all.

“There is no criminal liability, there is not civil liability. At most, you will receive a correction. So you don’t even need to worry about jail and so one,” he said.

The Minister added that the Bill will only affect those who deliberately create fake news – either to make money or to cause trouble. In fact, he reassures that citizens do not have to be worried about going behind bars if they’re merely sharing or forwarding fake news.

Based on Mr Shanmugam’s explanation, it brings us to a very important question. If sharing fake news is not wrong, then why is veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a civil suit for just sharing an article on Facebook without adding any comments?

Last November, the blogger shared a link of an article that had been published by The Coverage on his Facebook page, without comment or amendment. The article claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report Ms Clare Rewcastle had mentioned Singapore as “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States” in the 1MDB corruption scandal during an interview with Malaysian media. The article was shared over 20,000 times largely by Singaporeans and Malaysians.

However, just three days later, Mr Leong removed his post after reading a notice from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) demanding that the post be taken down.

Although he complied to the request and removed his post, the blogger received a letter from PM Lee’s lawyer alleging that the Facebook post had been published with malicious intent and that both the post and the article “contains allegations that are highly defamatory to (their) client”. As such, on 4 December 2018, PM Lee filed a defamation suit against him.

According to how the Law Minister explained the Bill, it clearly shows that Mr Leong should not be getting into any trouble for sharing an article, but PM Lee still went ahead and sued him.
Looking at this example, could the Law Minister be openly disagreeing with PM Lee’s legal approach?