Further scrutinise fake news draft legislation in Select Committee

Further scrutinise fake news draft legislation in Select Committee

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Sean Lim started this petition to Government of Singapore

Dear Leaders,

We are citizens of Singapore. We appeal that a motion be moved in Parliament to refer the draft Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation legislation to a Parliamentary Select Committee for further scrutiny.

We acknowledge that a parliamentary committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods had been formed in the past and had worked assiduously to gather feedback on the issue. We thank the members for their time and diligence. While some general principles have been espoused and incorporated into the Bill, the next step must be an examination of the details which have so far been confounding to ordinary people like us.

No one would deny the need for fake news legislation to protect the vulnerable. The question, as is the case in many countries, is who has the power and authority to decide that speech is fake, and whether "offending'' parties have easy access to other avenues of appeal. As it is, the Bill is more focused on extending executive powers over individuals and organizations, than on ensuring checks in place to prevent abuse.

We note that under the proposed Bill, such decisive powers will be in the hands of any/all ministers who can issue either a correction or a takedown order on what they deem as falsehoods. This seems unprecedented and leaves questions on the consistency of its application across the Cabinet members. The need for each minister to hold this power on the basis that they would be best able to “deem’’ facts from falsity on subjects under the domain should be weighed against assuring citizens that they would be applied even-handedly and not according to standards of different human beings.

Concerns about executive over-reach are real, at least, for us. The Bill could be better phrased to include conditions for a take-down order, which is far more serious than a correction order as it would mean expunging the supposedly offending material in its entirety and depriving the public of independent examination of its content. Limits on how long a minister can take before deciding on an appeal against the order should be placed. Just as the supposedly aggrieved party has to make his or her appeal in writing, the minister should also publish his decision for staying or reversing his course.

Commentators have also noted that the “final arbiter’’ – the judiciary – seem constrained by the letter of the law from over-turning executive orders. We hope you will question if this is the case and whether the law should give the judges more discretion on what constitutes fake news that is detrimental to the public interest, even as it seems to give carte blanch to the executive branch.

We note also that an important institution, the Singapore Press Holdings, has repeated its call for an independent, neutral party to have some say in the process. If Singapore’s largest media organization with the most number of journalists has this concern, a full and formal response should be forthcoming.

We have great confidence in the institution of Parliament, the third arm of the State alongside the Judiciary and the Executive. Lay people are not legally trained to examine the law and we do not believe we have laid out the concerns comprehensively. What lay people expect is that their representatives would do the right thing on their behalf, whatever their political affiliation.

We understand that a fuller exposition on the Bill will be given during the Second Reading, giving opportunities for clarifications and explanations. We are appealing to you to fore-stall its Third Reading and final passage, by proposing a Select Committee to further examine the legislation. This is not legislation that should be hurried through.

Yours sincerely,
Us Singaporeans

(Petition started by me, but letter adapted from Bertha Henson, with permission)

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Background:

People in Singapore who spread online falsehoods with a malicious intent to harm public interest could face jail terms of up to 10 years, under a draft law designed to protect society from fake news. Internet platforms, including social media sites like Facebook, will also be required to act swiftly to limit the spread of falsehoods by displaying corrections alongside such posts or removing them. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to $1 million.

For action to be triggered under the proposed law, two criteria must be met: There must be a false statement of fact put up online, and it must be in the public interest for the Government to take action. This means opinions, criticisms, satire or parody are not caught by the Bill, which will not penalise people who criticise the Government without making false claims.

The Bill gives ministers powers to implement a range of non-punitive remedies to curb the impact of online falsehoods.

(Text taken from The Straits Times)
(Picture from DNA India)

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