Fake news Bill

Govt's powers narrower under proposed law

We thank Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh for his views on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (Practical suggestions to strengthen Bill, May 1). His views will help in a constructive debate on the Bill.

Mr Singh recognises the need for the Bill, saying that there can be "no serious disagreement" that the Government needs to be "adequately equipped".

He raises some points on the Bill's language. He says the line between fact and opinion could be unclear. Mr Singh, and other lawyers, will know that there is jurisprudence on this. If there is a dispute, ultimately the courts will have to decide whether a statement was factual or an opinion.

Indeed, Mr Singh has had constructive discussions with the Ministry of Law on the Bill. On "fact" and "public interest", he was told that the definitions in the Bill had been calibrated and were the most workable, given the existing jurisprudence.

With this in mind, Mr Singh has suggested that the Bill expressly set out the requirement for proportionality when the Government issues directions. As Senior Counsel Siraj Omar points out (A more calibrated approach, May 1), a close reading of the Bill will show that it already contains the proportionality requirement.

Mr Singh would also be aware that the powers proposed to be given to the Government under the Bill, and the public interest grounds on which the Government can exercise its powers, are actually narrower than the Government's existing powers. And the Bill proposes greater oversight for the courts than is the position under existing laws. In key areas, the Bill narrows, rather than extends, the Government's powers.

Mr Singh made an additional point about regular review of the Bill. This will be considered and dealt with in Parliament.

Teo Wan Gek

Press Secretary to Minister

Ministry of Law

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'Govt's powers narrower under proposed law'. Print Edition | Subscribe