Deputy Speaker Charles Chong announced on Thursday, January 11, the formation of a ten-member Select Committee of Members of Parliament (MPs) to address the growing problem of fake news. The committee will propose countermeasures for the problem, while taking care to preserve space for healthy discourse and to not draft laws that are overly restrictive.
Mr. Chong will serve as committee chairman. The nine other members of the committee are made up of one nominated MP, one Worker’s Party MP, and seven People’s Action Party MPs, who are as follows
- NMP Chia Yong Yong
- Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh
- Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and for Education Janil Puthucheary
- Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
- Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee
- Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC)
- Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC)
- Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC)
- Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC)
Parliament voted unanimously to form the committee after a three-hour debate on Wednesday, January 10. The following day, the Committee of Selection held a meeting for this purpose.
Members of Parliament highlighted in the debate their apprehensions concerning false news that has spread in Singapore, however, concerns about laws that would be too restrictive were also brought up.
The ten-member committee’s primary directive and goal is to investigate and formulate reports on the root causes and results of falsehoods propagated online, as well as to submit proposals that would rectify these, which may include drafting new laws as needed.
Mr Chong said that the committee intends to meet at the soonest possible time, saying, “(The issue of fake news) is quite an urgent problem in terms of what is going on in the rest of the world. Listening to the debate yesterday, (we felt that) while we want to (come up with recommendations) expeditiously, we also want to do a thorough job.”
Mr. Chong also stressed that the committee must allow for space for engaging in healthy discourse while proposing countermeasures to fake news. He assured that experts will be consulted on the matter, and said that the committee will determine if there need to be public hearings.
While no deadlines for the committee’s recommendations have been set, Mr. Chong says that the committee will do its due diligence in studying the issue of online falsehoods and will come up with the best answers and recommendations.
The last time a Select Committee was formed in order to provide recommendations on policy was in 2004, for a law concerning building management and maintenance.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged citizens to share their opinions concerning the matter, as the Select Committee will welcome feedback from the public. “Yesterday, Parliament unanimously resolved to form a Select Committee to study deliberate online falsehoods, and how to prevent and counter their spread. Public feedback will be sought. Do give your views on this problem.”
In the post the Prime Minister wrote about a speech made by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah during the debate in Parliament on Wednesday, about her own experience with how dangerous fake news can be.
“Lee Bee Wah made a powerful speech in Parliament yesterday. She shared a moving tale on the harm fake news could cause.
In 1969, Bee Wah was a little 8-year-old girl, living on a rubber plantation in Malacca. False rumours had led to race riots in which hundreds died. She vividly recalled her mother telling her that if the Malays “came” for them, the family would run into the jungle to hide, and leave her newborn baby brother behind.”
At the end of his post Prime Minister Lee reiterated the dangers of fake news especially in Singapore’s society, which “highly connected and wired up, is especially vulnerable.”
He ended with an appeal for all to be vigilant, “Everyone needs to be part of the solution, by checking that story before you click the Forward button!”
On social media, netizens questioned the government’s priorities while bringing up issues that they considered to be more important
Others questioned the selection of Mr Chong as committee chairman.
Still others poked fun at the whole issue of fake news.
Will this stifle the already muted political discourse in Singapore? Comment below.