Govt’s powers in fake news Bill addressed
Edwin Tong: Government must make first call but there is legal safeguard for those who disagree with the decision
If the Government wrongly determines that a piece of content is false, and the courts overturn its decision, it will be subject to costs and consequences, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong said yesterday.
"Over time, if this keeps happening, then trust in the Government will also be undermined and the natural consequences will follow," he told a forum at Singapore Management University (SMU).
Mr Tong's comments come amid concern from some over the broad powers the Government would get in determining what is false under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, tabled in Parliament on Monday.
Ministers would have discretion to act swiftly against online falsehoods that harm the public interest, by ordering corrections or for content to be taken down. But those who disagree with such decisions can challenge them in court.
Reiterating this safeguard at the forum titled Truth And Lies: Trust In Times Of Information Disorder, Mr Tong said such powers were "not very different from how the Government might be expected to react if there was anything that affected the safety of our society".
He said: "It might be physical safety, it might be from toxic gases, it might be from diseases. If we have basis to believe that public interest would be undermined, then the Government must make the first call."
In remarks at the end of the half-day event, SMU law school dean Goh Yihan said it was not uncommon for the Government to be given the power to swiftly make a decision and then to allow that decision to be challenged in the courts.
"This might be the right balance to be to be struck in the fake news legislation because it enables dangerous fake news that may cause irreversible damage to be removed quickly, but it does leave recourse to the speaker or whoever... to then challenge the executive's decision."
The forum was organised by SMU with Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).
Separately, an SPH spokesman, in comments on the Bill yesterday, 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."
This was among the suggestions the company had when it appeared before the Select Committee convened last year to hear from the public on the issue of online falsehoods.
Mediacorp said: "This is a significant piece of legislation that needs to be studied further to understand the details and their implications."