Singapore is set to introduce a new anti-fake news law, allowing authorities in the city-state to remove articles deemed to breach government regulations.
The law, being read in parliament today, will stoke fears that Singapore’s authoritarian government will further stifle dissent in an already tightly-controlled media environment.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have Asia headquarters in Singapore, with the companies expected to be under increased pressure to aid the law’s implementation.
On Friday Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested that the law would tackle the country’s growing problem of online misinformation. It follows an examination of fake news in Singapore by a parliamentary committee last year, which concluded that the city-state was a “target of hostile information campaigns”.
Lee said the law will require media outlets to correct fake news articles, and “show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter.”
“In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done,” he said.
Last week Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called for more regulation of social media by governments. However, last year Facebook representatives told the Singapore committee that the company opposed fake news legislation in the city-state.
Kirsten Han, a Singaporean activist and journalist also consulted by the committee, expressed concern that broad terms such as “fake news” were open to abuse by authoritarian governments. Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 151st out of 180 in its 2018 Press Freedom Index: three places below Russia.
Reporters Without Borders said Singaporean media censorship was rife, and that “red lines imposed by the authorities … apply to an ever-wider range of issues and public figures. As in many southeast Asian countries, governmental plans to legislate against ‘fake news’ are seen as a threat to the freedom to inform.”
In January Vietnam introduced cybersecurity laws that essentially criminalised the criticism of the country’s government on the internet. In the Philippines Maria Ressa, founder of news website Rappler, was arrested on Friday on what supporters said were politically-motivated charges.
In April last year Malaysia passed its Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, introducing jail terms of up to six years for those breaching it. The country’s current leadership has attempted to repeal the bill following the arrest for corruption of Najib Razak, who was prime minister when it was introduced.