Singapore and its institutions must be protected from ‘fake news’: Ministry of Law

A view of the Supreme Court building in the backdrop of the skyline of Singapore’s central business district May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su/Files

The “scourge of false information” which can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, must not be allowed to take root in Singapore, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) on Sunday (22 Jan).

“Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention. It is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making,” said a MinLaw spokesman.

And while it does not intend to amend the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) to protect itself from harassment, “the Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information”.

The Ministry was responding to the Workers’ Party, which said last week that it would “vigorously oppose” attempts to amend the law so as to “more clearly define” how the POHA “protects the government from harassment”.

This was in reference to the Court of Appeal’s recent recent ruling against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), in which the ministry was again found to not qualify as a “person” under Section 15 of the PHA and, thus, could not compel socio-political website The Online Citizen to remove statements made by inventor Ting Choon Meng over a patent rights dispute.

Calling the WP’s statement “misconceived”, the MinLaw spokesman noted that POHA provides remedies for two distinct types of wrongs: harassment and false statements.

The spokesman also referred to a statement issued last Monday, which set out the Government’s position that the case had nothing to do with harassment and was about “false statements”.

“The Workers’ Party claims to be a champion of transparency; if this were so, it should welcome the ability of the Government and others to put a stop to falsehoods. There can be no objection to this unless the Workers’ Party sees profit in the dissemination of falsehoods.”