American news organisation CNN has said that “Singapore has long controlled both the media and online expression” in a recent article covering the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) that was tabled in Parliament last week.
POFMA intends to give ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and to decide whether to take action against purveyors of online falsehoods.
In an article published last week, CNN writer James Griffiths wrote that “Singapore has a poor record on press freedom” as he cited the nation’s 151st spot out 180 nations in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world rankings on press freedom.
Griffiths also interviewed Human Rights Watch Asia’s deputy director Phil Robertson and pointed out that an election is looming. Griffiths quoted Robertson who said that he expects the new bill to be used for “political purposes”.
Asserting that the “Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with as false and misleading,” Robertson added that he expects the government to go after RSF if the bill is passed.
Besides Robertson, Singaporean writer Kirsten Han also spoke with Griffiths. Han noted that the new bill may position the government as an arbiter of truth and that avenues to appeal corrections, takedowns or blocks on content may not be affordable for ordinary Singaporeans. She asked:
“How many Singaporeans will have the resources or desire to take the matter to court and get the (government’s) direction overturned and a Facebook post/article/blog post reinstated?”
Griffiths then asserted that “Singapore has long controlled both the media and online expression, despite the city’s courting of international tech firms” as he linked to an article about how a local publication went on hiatus after the authorities seized their equipment.
However, in a recent article published in TNP, minister of Law, K Shanmugam said, courts “ultimately decide what is true and false.”
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