Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has said in an official statement released today (4 Apr) that it welcomes the proposed law tabled in Parliament this week giving the Government the authority to determine what are online falsehoods and how to deal with such matters.
The Law Ministry tabled the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill in Parliament on Monday (1 Apr). 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 published on The Straits Times website, SPH said that even though it wishes the authority to determine what is an online falsehood had been given to an independent body, it “welcomes the Government’s draft legislation to deal decisively with the challenge of deliberate online falsehoods”.
The organisation added: “Given the vulnerabilities that exist in society, the measures proposed will help address a clear and present danger posed by those who seek to use new media platforms to spread misinformation and falsehoods deliberately.
“We had proposed that a level playing field be established for all media players in having to correct or take down online falsehoods, and welcome the moves to do so in the draft Bill. We also note the decision to require corrections and clarifications as an option, with take-down orders being used for more egregious content.”
SPH pointed out that it had earlier proposed a neutral arbiter to determine what is an online falsehood, so that the process would have more credibility “in the eyes of the public”.
Noting that the proposed law, which grants this authority to ministers, has given rise to “disquiet in some quarters”, SPH said that it shares these concerns. It said:
“While we understand the need to act quickly in some instances, we continue to believe that an independent authority would have provided a neutral avenue for content creators or news organisations to appeal to, short of resorting to a legal challenge.”
There are close ties between the directors of SPH and the Singapore Government. S. R. Nathan, Director of the Security and Intelligence Division and later President of Singapore, served as SPH’s Executive chairman from 1982 to 1988.
SPH’s first President (1994–2002) was Tjong Yik Min, former chief of the Internal Security Department. The immediate former Chairman of SPH, Tony Tan, was Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1994 to 2005 and President of Singapore from 2011 to 2017.
Dr Lee Boon Yang is the current chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. Former Chief of Defence Force Ng Yat Chung is the current CEO since 1 September 2017.
A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks several years ago caused a stir after it quoted former ST bureau chief for the US as saying that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”.
Chua purportedly added that “The government exerts significant pressure on ST editors to ensure that published articles follow the government’s line. Wikileaks further revealed:
“Chua said that unless one of the editors is a “Trojan Horse,” someone that for years has successfully concealed any non pro-government leanings, none of them has the courage to publish any stories critical of the government.
“While Chua admitted that he knew of no editors who had been fired or otherwise punished for printing articles critical of the government, he said that is because all of the them have been vetted to ensure their pro-government leanings.”
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