Ex-NTUC Income chief executive Tan Kin Lian has started a petition on change.org urging President Halimah Yacob to refer the recently-passed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) bill back to Parliament.
POFMA is an anti-fake news law that was passed in Parliament last week, after a fierce debate that took place over two days. The vote to pass the bill was not unanimous – in the final division, all nine Workers’ Party (WP) parliamentarians rejected the bill while three Nominated MPs (NMPs) abstained from voting. Seventy-two MPs supported the bill.
The new law, which will 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 and whether to take action.
Mr Tan, a former presidential candidate himself, urged President Halimah to “withhold assent to the Bill and refer it back to the Parliament for a more thorough consideration of the law.”
The petition also called on all MPs to “scrutinise the Bill and ensure that it does not restrict the freedom of expression which is guaranteed in our Constitution.” The petition said:
“We are citizens of Singapore who wish to express our concern over the following aspects of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill:
“a) The Act allows the government to exempt certain people from the law. The government has already taken the decision to exempt ministers. Our law should apply to everybody and nobody, including the ministers, should be exempted.
“b) Under the Act, any appeal against the decision of the minister has to be made to the minister in the first place, before it can be sent to the court. There is no time limit required by the minister to reply. The minister can sit on the matter forever, and prevent the appeal from going to court.
“c) In other countries, a similar law is passed to address specific problems, such as terrorism and hate news against a racial or religious group. In Singapore, this law is targeted against “falsehoods”. We fear that it can be used to restrict criticism of government policies and actions and create obstacles against people who hold different political views.
“d) Under this law, any ministers (and there are 20 ministers in Singapore) can make a determination that a news is false and require the news item to be corrected or taken down. We suggest that this determination should be made by the court, rather than a minister. This will ensure that there is consistency in making the determination.
“We strongly urge that Your Excellency to withhold assent to the Bill and refer it back to the Parliament for a more thorough consideration of the law. We also urge all parliamentarians to scrutinise the Bill and ensure that it does not restrict the freedom of expression which is guaranteed in our Constitution.”
It is unclear if Mr Tan wrote the text of the petition himself. In a Facebook post published prior to the creation of the petition, Mr Tan sought the views of netizens and said that “someone” had sent the petition to him:
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