The editorial board of the internationally-renowned Financial Times (FT) has called Singapore’s proposed legislation to deal with fake news “a mistake,” in a statement published on Monday (8 Apr).
Singapore’s Law Ministry tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in Parliament last week. The bill, which aims to provide the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest, intends to give ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood.
The bill proposes that domain ministers can decide whether to take action under two conditions: when a false statement of a fact has been communicated in Singapore through the Internet, and when it is in the public interest to intervene.
In a statement on their website, the editors of FT — a Nikkei Inc-owned business and economic news publication that boasts nearly 1 million paid users and nearly a quarter of a million digital subscribers — noted that fake news has been spread by groups “ranging from authoritarian states to extremist groups” well before the term came to be used.
Calling laws like POFMA which aim to penalise purveyors of fake news “disturbing”, FT asserted: “Top-down approaches risk being abused and turning into censorship. The best way to tackle fake news is to teach consumers to identify and reject it.”
FT added that Singapore is “taking more far-reaching steps” than nations like Germany and France which have introduced legislation to deal with fake news. It asserted that “Such sweeping government intervention is a mistake.”
The publication noted that there is a “clear risk of a future in which governments dictate what is “true” to their populations” and that governments that implement such sweeping legislation could be accused of hiding the truth.
Suggesting that the best approach to tackle fake news is ensuring that readers question what they read, FT’s editorial board warned that “democracies must be wary of introducing anti-fake news laws that could be misused, and provide cover for authoritarian regimes to take ostensibly similar steps with more malicious intent.”
Read the editorial in full HERE.