Activist Jolovan Wham says current safeguards enough to deal with fake news, session with committee lasts five minutes

Civil society activist Jolovan Wham (pictured) said he was not convinced that fake news is a problem in Singapore, even as committee member Edwin Tong pointed out that other witnesses had testified otherwise. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Current safeguards are enough to deal with fake news because the issue is not a major one here, said civil society activist Jolovan Wham in his written submission to a parliamentary select committee.

Mr Wham said on Tuesday (March 27) he was not convinced that fake news is a problem in Singapore, even as committee member Edwin Tong pointed out that other witnesses had testified otherwise.

"By and large, the acknowledgement is that there is a significant problem," said Mr Tong, asking Mr Wham to reconsider his position given the evidence put forth by others.

Mr Wham - who was representing local non-governmental organisation Community Action Network (CAN) - declined to.

He added: "So far, we are yet to be convinced that there is a significant problem in Singapore."

When Mr Tong pointed out one objective of fake news is to destabilise national security, Mr Wham asked if that has happened here.

"It is an important question because we need to look at empirical evidence - real life evidence - and not speculate and draw conclusion on evidence not relevant to us," he said.

In response, Mr Tong asked: "The report you have put forward and the views set out in there, should be looked at entirely in this context, am I right?"

Mr Wham said yes.

Mr Tong said he had no other questions, concluding Mr Wham's session which lasted for around five minutes. He was the last witness for the day.

On hearing this, Mr Wham said he had waited for around seven hours to speak to the committee since arriving at Parliament at 2pm.

"I came all dressed for this, it's the first time I've worn a suit in years," he said.

Thanking Mr Wham for his participation, committee acting chairman Seah Kian Peng assured him that the written submissions have been noted and read by the panel.

In its written evidence, the Community Action Network criticised the Green Paper for pointing out the Republic's vulnerabilities to fake news without any local examples.

The Green Paper said Singapore could be a target for foreign state actors due to its role in Asean, its global connectedness, and its multi-racial and multi-religious society.

But CAN said these scenarios "are too diverse and haphazardly drawn together". The paper's definition of fake news was also too vague to convince Singaporeans of a credible threat to the country.

Instead of fake news legislation, CAN recommended more transparency on thegovernment's part, including answering queries from new organisations promptly and in good faith.

CAN also called for a Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens to request for official information, and for the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act to be repealed.

It added the mainstream media already deals with misinformation easily, carrying rebuttals and clarifications by the government in its reports prominently.

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