Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Communications and Information

Broadcast laws to be updated this year

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the update to broadcasting laws is necessary as technology has enabled Singaporeans to access a wide variety of content online.
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the update to broadcasting laws is necessary as technology has enabled Singaporeans to access a wide variety of content online.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Move ensures overseas content is in line with local values; addresses concerns over 'fake news': Yaacob

Singapore will update its laws to ensure that overseas content - which has become more readily available - is in line with local values.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday said the Broadcasting Act will be changed later this year, and details will be announced soon.

Dr Yaacob said the amendments are necessary as technology has enabled Singaporeans to access a wide variety of content online.

"When overseas content providers are directly targeting Singaporeans, we need to ensure that their content is in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony," he added.

During the debate on his ministry's budget, several MPs raised concerns about the spread of false information, or "fake news".

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted that false information was said to have shaped voter behaviour in last year's Brexit vote and United States presidential elections, and countries like Germany are looking at laws to tackle the problem.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) stressed the danger of fake news straining religious and ethnic fault lines in Singapore's diverse society.

But he also cautioned that over-regulation would harm Singapore's image as an open society. "A totally draconian approach is unlikely to work," he said.

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The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly.

MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION YAACOB IBRAHIM

Dr Yaacob said the update to broadcasting laws will address such concerns.

"The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly," he said.

He also pointed out that tech giants such as Facebook and Google have recognised that a certain degree of control is necessary.

For instance, Google has prohibited advertisements on sites with deliberate misinformation, while Facebook is mobilising users to call out misinformation in their news feeds.

The amendments will cover all broadcast content, including entertainment and news reporting.

Dr Yaacob said the Government is studying the proposed changes very closely, to avoid adding undue burden to businesses.

But a review of laws and regulations is just one aspect of dealing with misinformation, he said.

The public also plays a crucial role in being discerning when accessing information, he added.

"To this end, we will continue to promote information and media literacy to all Singaporeans, particularly the young and those who may be vulnerable."

During the debate, Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) suggested that Parliament sittings be streamed live online. This would provide a source of reliable information to better inform the public.

In response, Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat said videos of all parliamentary speeches are uploaded online the day after the sitting. The videos are also kept online for six months, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Broadcast laws to be updated this year'. Print Edition | Subscribe