Singapore’s recently enacted anti-fake news law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), has caused the nation to slip in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) 2019 democracy rankings.
The EIU is a British business unit within the Economist Group providing forecasting and advisory services through research and analysis, such as monthly country reports, five-year country economic forecasts, country risk service reports, and industry reports.
One of the yearly reports it produces is its Democracy Index – an annual comparative analysis that studies the political systems of 165 countries and two territories and ranks the democracies around the world.
In the 2019 Democracy Index, Singapore slipped to the 75th spot largely due to the new anti-fake news law which is said to have had detrimental effect on civil liberties. EIU analysts said:
“The government claims that the law was enacted simply to prevent the dissemination of false news, but it threatens freedom of expression in Singapore, as it can be used to curtail political debate and silence critics of the government.”
POFMA was passed in Parliament on 8 May last year, after a fierce debate that took place over two days. The new law, which provides the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest, gives ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and whether to take action.
The vote to pass the bill was not unanimous – in the final division, all nine Workers’ Party (WP) parliamentarians rejected the bill while Nominated MPs (NMPs) Anthea Ong, Walter Theseira and Irene Quay abstained from voting. 72 MPs supported the bill.
The law has been invoked six times since it went into effect on 2 October 2019. It was most recently invoked this week, against Malaysian human rights group Lawyers for Liberty.
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