Select Committee on fake news

Panel 'will ensure space for healthy discourse'

Mr Charles Chong, chairman of the newly formed Select Committee to look into online falsehoods, said there was consensus in Parliament on the need to "say 'yes' to alternative views, but not alternative facts".
Mr Charles Chong, chairman of the newly formed Select Committee to look into online falsehoods, said there was consensus in Parliament on the need to "say 'yes' to alternative views, but not alternative facts".

The day-old Select Committee on fake news will strive to ensure there is space for healthy discourse even as it recommends ways to tackle deliberate falsehoods posted online.

Its chairman Charles Chong, who is also Deputy Speaker of Parliament, gave the assurance yesterday after announcing earlier in the day the names of the MPs who will form the 10-member committee.

He said in an interview with The Straits Times there is some apprehension among people that even when "they may misspeak or may not be accurate in what they say'', their remarks will be taken as a serious offence.

The formation of the Select Committee took place after a meeting called by the Committee of Selection in Parliament yesterday, the day after the House voted unanimously for its establishment.

Apart from Mr Chong, the rest of the members comprise three office-holders, four People's Action Party (PAP) MPs, one Workers' Party MP and a Nominated MP (NMP).

The office-holders are Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary. The PAP MPs are Mr Seah Kian Peng, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Ms Sun Xueling and Mr Edwin Tong. The remaining two are Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh and NMP Chia Yong Yong.

The committee's mandate is to examine and report on causes and consequences of online falsehoods, and to propose countermeasures, including legislation, that may be needed.

Mr Chong said its first meeting will be held as soon as possible.

"(The issue of fake news) is quite an urgent problem in terms of what is going on in the rest of the world. Listening to the debate (on Wednesday), we felt that while we want to come up with recommendations expeditiously, we also want to do a thorough job," he added.

Based on Wednesday's parliamentary debate, there was consensus on the need to "say 'yes' to alternative views, but not alternative facts", Mr Chong said.

He also said experts will be consulted, but no timeline has been fixed on when the committee will complete its work.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday that the Select Committee will seek public feedback, and urged Singaporeans to share their views.

"Fake news became a talking point last year," PM Lee wrote. "But it has affected livelihoods and divided societies for far longer.

"The difference now is fake news can spread in a matter of hours, on social media or text messaging. Singapore, highly connected and wired up, is especially vulnerable."

He added: "Everyone needs to be part of the solution, by checking that story before you click the Forward button!"

Yuen Sin

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2018, with the headline 'Panel 'will ensure space for healthy discourse''. Print Edition | Subscribe