Current and former media practitioners sign petition against Fake News bill

The three main concerns were the excessive infringement on freedom of expression, the government’s inability to appreciate the digital news industry and to work with media practitioners to combat disinformation, and the increasing lack of government accountability to citizens

Photo: YouTube screengrab

Current and former media practitioners have come together to petition against the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA), highlighting concerns and directions that they would like Parliamentarians to consider when debating the issue.

The petition is undersigned by heavyweights in the industry such as veteran journalist P.N. Balji, former editor of The Online Citizen Joshua Chiang, former Straits Times journalist and Honorary Research and Advocacy Director of AWARE Braema Mathi, Publisher of the Independent Singapore Kumaran Pillai, Former opinion editor of The Online Citizen and of The Independent Singapore Howard Lee, as well as the editorial teams of TR Emeritus and Wake Up Singapore.

Their objections to the Bill stem from three main concerns raised, which are the excessive infringement on freedom of expression, the government’s inability to appreciate the digital news industry and to work with media practitioners to combat disinformation, and the increasing lack of government accountability to citizens.

They explain that while the Bill is meant to oversee statements of facts, as opinion writers, who put together articles that combine fact and viewpoints, they feel that “the Bill gives little clarity on how these opinion pieces, despite the diligence given to the analysis, can completely avoid running afoul of POFMA”.

Furthermore, in their statement to all Parliamentarians, they add, “The greatest public discomfort with POFMA must certainly be the expansive powers granted the executive to act against what the government, and only the government, decides to be falsehoods”.

“This condition grants each Ministry the right to declare as false any
material online that opposes its position, silencing meaningful public debate on policy issues and increasing the chances for political abuse that the Law Minister could not guarantee against”.

Following the three concerns raised, some of the recommendations made to the Singapore government and to Parliamentarians debating on POFMA include; to reconsider POFMA in light of the original purpose of Singapore’s fight against Disinformation, to consider amending relevant laws, such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and Election Acts, to better accommodate the repulsion of disinformation, and to consider all media entities, mainstream and online, as valuable partners in the fight against
Disinformation.

They also request that should it be decided that POFMA proceeds, for the sixth condition and all related clauses that grant the government excessive jurisdiction over the definition and persecution of perceived falsehoods.

The day before former and current media practitioners came together to petition against the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran told Bloomberg Television on Monday that Singapore sought feedback from technology and media companies during the drafting of the bill.

Singapore’s fake news laws will likely come into effect in the second half of this year.

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