Clare Rewcastle Brown a British investigative journalist has joined other prominent journalists to write to the Singapore government to withdraw the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill (POFMA).
Rewcastle Brown is the founder Radio Free Sarawak and the author of the book Sarawak Report. She is among the first to blow the whistle on the 1MDB scandal. The 1MDB scandal is an ongoing political scandal occurring in Malaysia.
In 2015, Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Najib Razak was accused of channelling over RM 2.67 billion (nearly USD 700 million) from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-run strategic development company, to his personal bank accounts.
After her exposure of the 1MDB scandal, the former Malaysian government went to great lengths to discredit and intimidate Rewcastle Brown and her works. Her book ends with the stunning election upset last year when Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad and the Pakatan Harapan coalition won.
In speaking to the Time magazine after the new Government was installed in Malaysia, and specifically, answering a question of “how big an impact does she think the revelations of 1MDB had on the elections”, Rewcastle Brown said:
“To me, it was a complete vindication of why we have to have free journalism and a proper democratic process. Through 1MDB I was able to bring the reality of what was happening in Malaysia to people, and 1MDB was the key platform Mahathir used. The nation trusted him. He was an old battle-axe and a strongman, and had several unpleasantly authoritarian tendencies, but everyone trusted in his basic integrity and his concern for the nation. 1MDB proved just how off the scale Najib and his wife’s corruption was, and how dangerous it was.”
In explaining why they were opposed to POFMA, Rewcastle Brown and the other petitioning journalists said, it was “too broad” and “vaguely worded”, even affecting journalists operating outside Singapore, so long as their content is available to readers in Singapore. They took issue with the power POFMA would give to all Ministers in Singapore to declare what is “falsehoods”, and demand rectification and/or removal.
The letter explained the predicament of journalists saying:
“Journalists regularly file stories as situations develop and facts are still emerging. In some cases, contradictory accounts of events are not unusual and the truth might only become clear over an extended period of time.”
They charged that the proposed bill to counter “fake news” fails to take into account such realities faced on the ground by journalists. They also charged that POFMA fails to distinguish between malicious falsehoods and general mistakes, and places an unnecessarily onerous burden on journalists practicing their craft in good faith.
In referring to the newspaper report where the Law Minister, Mr K Shanmugam, responded to the question of if the proposed law may be abused, said “he cannot vouch for how future governments will act,” the journalists said that in the wrong hands, POFMA could be misused for selfish gains.
The petition sent to the Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S Iswaran, is also signed by other prominent local journalists like Kirsten Han and Lynn Lee. -/TISG