Fake news law: Courts to hear appeals in as few as 9 days
Courts to hear appeals against ministers' directions to take down online content as early as nine days after challenge: Shanmugam
Under the proposed fake news law, a person can have his appeal against a minister's direction heard in the High Court as early as nine working days from the time a challenge is made.
This includes the two days for a minister to make a decision on the appeal.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament this yesterday as he kicked off a two-day debate on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.
Mr Shanmugam had previously promised a fast, simple and low-cost appeals process after concerns were raised over the difficulty of challenging executive decisions allowed under the Bill.
It empowers ministers to order individuals to take down content deemed false and against the public interest, or run a correction.
Mr Shanmugam shared an overview on how people can seek redress and said details of this process will be set out in subsidiary legislation.
- Under the proposed law, those who feel aggrieved by a minister's direction must apply to the relevant minister to cancel it. They can do so by sending a standard online form for appeals via the e-mail address, which comes with the minister's direction.
- The minister has two working days to decide on the application.
- If the appeal to the minister is unsuccessful, a judicial appeal, also via a standard form, can be filed in the High Court within 14 days and the court must hold a hearing within six working days upon receipt.
- The courts decide how long the hearing will last. No court fees will be charged for the first three days and the courts have the power to waive subsequent fees.
Addressing Parliament for more than two hours yesterday, Mr Shanmugam also refuted other criticisms.
Here are his responses.
PROPOSED LAW GIVES GOVERNMENT TOO MUCH POWER
The Bill is much narrower compared to existing laws like the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, which already have powers to take down and correct falsehoods.
The Government could have relied on current laws, making amendments or adding subsidiary legislation, but that would not have the speedy, calibrated remedies designed specifically for online falsehoods, or the judicial oversight provided in Bill.
ON CLAUSE 61, WHICH ALLOWS FOR EXEMPTIONS
A common provision found in other laws, a clause is meant to allow exemptions in cases where it is not possible to comply with legislation, like when it is technically impossible.
Referring to a commentary written by Mr Jeff Paine, lobby group Asia Internet Coalition's managing director, Mr Shanmugam said he was quite happy to remove the clause if technology companies did not think it necessary.
ON RESTRICTION OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM
No legal or logical basis for concerns that Bill will stifle academic research specifically.
ON DEFINITIONS OF FALSEHOODS AND PUBLIC INTEREST BEING TOO BROAD
The Government decided against stating in Bill that opinions are not covered by proposed law as there is already a body of case law on how to determine fact and opinion.
As for including diminution of public confidence in government institutions in the definition of public interest, Mr Shanmugam said online falsehoods look to break down trust by attacking such public institutions, so it is important to protect them.
'ON CHILLING EFFECT' ON FREE SPEECH
The Bill will not affect free speech.
Quoting law professor Thio Li-ann, who gave evidence during the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods hearings last year, Mr Shanmugam said that not all forms of speech, like falsehoods, are worthy of equal protection.
Workers' Party opposes online falsehood laws
The Workers' Party (WP) is opposed to the proposed online falsehoods laws as it does not believe that ministers should be the ones to make the initial decision on what constitutes a false statement, opposition chief Mr Pritam Singh told Parliament yesterday.
Speaking during the debate on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Bill, which continues today, Mr Singh (Aljunied GRC) said the courts should be the decision makers instead, and this will legitimise any actions taken by the Government.
He said questions will be asked about decisions by the executive whether the Government chooses to act or not, and politicisation would be inevitable.
"It is precisely because of these very reasons that the decision maker must be perceived to be free of conflict in deciding on matters concerning online falsehoods and manipulation as defined by the Bill," he added.
Mr Singh said these concerns were pointed out in the report by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods convened last year, which threw up three alternatives to the executive - the courts, an independent body or ombudsman, or for tech companies, to self-regulate.
While Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said expedited court processes might not be fast enough to deal with the virality of online falsehoods, Mr Singh disagreed and said he believed there is room for the courts to act speedily.
He said there is scope to introduce processes involving duty judges if there is an urgent application from the Government and this could be applied during periods of heightened risk, like elections.
He also suggested using quick remedies under civil law and enhancements to the Protection from Harassment Act.
Former WP secretary-general Mr Low Thia Khiang also expressed his opposition to the Bill and said engaging in a legal tussle with the Government is easier said than done.
Mr Low (Aljunied GRC) said the Bill had a hidden agenda, adding in Mandarin: "It is like during a match, the minister is both player and referee...
"How can we be sure that the ministers from the ruling party will not manipulate opinions and spread falsehoods in order to win elections?"
Nominated Member of Parliament Irene Quay said she had strong reservations about the Bill in its current form and asked for the party whips to be lifted so MPs can vote according to their conscience.
"This Bill will have a huge impact on the average Singaporean's freedom of expression and possibly our nation's progress," she said.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now