Singapore’s “Fake News” Committee Draws Heavy Flak From Activists
A Singaporean parliamentary committee examining potential legislation to weed out “fake news” is coming under fire from activists who claim that the committee had misrepresented their views and threatened those who attempted to give evidence.
Established in January, the 10-man “fake news” select committee aims to combat online falsehoods which the government sees as potential threats to national security. However, activists in Singapore fear that the new laws would instead be used to stifle the already limited amounts of free speech in the country.
Activists released a joint statement, claiming that they were “harangued, harassed, threatened, and misrepresented” by the committee despite engaging in good faith and providing full cooperation during the hearings. According to the statement, “members of the Select Committee repeatedly insisted on yes or no answers to their questions, despite repeatedly being told of the importance of context and nuance”.
The statement was also signed by the Community Action Network (CAN) and Function 8, both civil liberties organizations, along with journalist and activist Kirsten Han, blogger Terry Xu and historian Thum Ping Tjin.
The signing came shortly after tensions flared between the Singaporean government and Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) responsible for conducting research and advocating for human rights. The New York-based organization had earlier declined an invitation from Singapore to attend a public hearing on “fake news”, instead branding the hearing as a “media event”.
“We have ... reluctantly come to the conclusion that these hearings are not a true consultation on how best to deal with ‘fake news’, but a media event aimed to showcase those who agree with the government’s views and criticize those who do not,” said the Human Rights Watch in a statement.
The organization proceeded to label the committee as “an effort to discredit critics of Singapore’s repressive policies and practices”. In response, the Singaporean government criticized the human rights group as “biased and untruthful”.
Press freedom remains a critical issue in the island city-state of Singapore, which was ranked 151st on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
This controversy comes just days after neighboring Malaysia passed a “fake news” law which punishes perpetrators of online falsehoods with up to six years of jail time upon conviction. Malaysia sits slightly higher on the World Press Freedom Index at the 144th place.