AS the debate on whether or not to legislate against so-called fake news rages on in the global media landscape, the Singaporean government on Monday said it was not in a rush to introduce new laws to curb the problem.
While the city-state has mulled new regulation to rein in the threat of rampant disinformation, they want to make sure it’s suitable, Singapore’s Communications and Information Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary said.
“We’ve made it clear in the process, as well as several times we’ve been interviewed, if there is to be legislation (on fake news) we want the legislation to be correct in terms of its scope, its intent, its powers – the mechanics are very, very important to get the fine print right.”
“So we’re not in a rush in this,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the East-West Center International Media Conference held at Singapore Management University. “We have not set a timeline on this (law) or a deadline.”
Janil said even though the government was looking to introduce the new law, tackling fake news should take a multifaceted approach.
“There is no single institution or single establishment that is responsible,” he said.
“This is something that educators, the mainstream press, citizens, tech companies and the government have a role to play.” Earlier, Janil was part of a panel discussion entitled Fighting Fake News.
Cherian George, a Professor at Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the question of introducing legislation was central to the Asian region but it was also important for all stakeholders not to the hand government a ‘blank cheque’ to implement such laws.
“We have to make sure that the laws are narrowly tailored as such that they don’t unwittingly or deliberately catch speech that could be regarded as legitimate,” he said.
“The penalties should be proportionate to the expected harm and not to jail bloggers for 10 years (as is happening) in some parts of Asia. And finally, the law should not play favourites.”
US President Donald Trump has often used the term fake news to condemn news reports or organisations whose findings he disputes or that are critical of him. The term has also quickly become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in authoritarian countries.
Singapore’s neighbour, Malaysia, is among the first countries to introduce such a law, although the newly elected government has expressed its intent to repeal the act.
Other Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, are considering how to tackle fake news. Rights activists worry that anti-fake news laws could be used to stifle free speech.