Shanmugam: Courts 'ultimately decide what is true and false', Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Shanmugam: Courts 'ultimately decide what is true and false'

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There is a need for the Government to make the initial decision to act against falsehoods that could go viral in a matter of minutes, but it is the courts that will be the final arbiter of what is true and what is false, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is designed to protect society against harm caused by fake news. It provides for criminal sanctions against those who deliberately spread falsehoods to cause harm, and also gives ministers the power to order corrections or removals of online falsehoods, among other things.

This has sparked criticism, with some people saying the proposed law makes the Government the arbiter of truth.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters at the Ministry of Law it is "completely not the case".

The Bill gives ministers the power to make the initial decision on a falsehood, because there is a need to act fast to prevent its spread, he said.

But the minister's decision can be challenged in court and overturned, he said.

"The courts decide ultimately what is true and what is false and they will be the final arbiters," he added.

The Bill also allows a minister to order the correction or removal of online content when two criteria are met: It must be a factual falsehood, and it has to harm the public interest.

Mr Shanmugam said people can criticise the Government and express their views without fearing they will run afoul of the proposed law.

The Bill relates mainly to people who "put out falsehoods to create mayhem, to create trouble, to create anger and hopefully violence".