Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat

Bill on online falsehoods a significant step to tackle serious issue: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has described the proposed law to fight online falsehoods as a significant step to tackle a serious problem that confronts many countries.

He also said that Singapore will continue to take an approach that works for it, in reply to a question from a Malaysiakini reporter at a joint news conference at the Leaders' Retreat in Putrajaya.

On Monday, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders had criticised the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), calling the Government's approach to fake news "completely inappropriate".

Asked about concerns over the draft law, PM Lee said: "I am not surprised that Reporters Without Borders criticised it. They criticise many things about Singapore's media management, but what we have done has worked for Singapore, and it is our objective to continue to do things which will work for Singapore. POFMA will be a significant step forward in this regard."

PM Lee pointed out that Singapore is not the only country looking at legislation on the issue. "The problem of fake news, of deliberate false statements being proliferated online, is a serious problem which confronts many countries," he said, noting that France and Germany have passed laws to combat it, and Britain is considering doing so.

"Singapore has had to do it, and we have had a long process of the Select Committee publishing a report. We have deliberated on this for almost two years now," he added.

"Finally, we have got this Bill. It is going to be debated in the House and I hope eventually, it will become legislation."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Malaysia was among the first few countries to introduce an anti-fake news law under the previous Barisan Nasional coalition. But the new Pakatan Harapan government, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has pledged to repeal the law, though this has been blocked by the opposition.

"This is what the people want, and we respect the people who actually voted us into power. On the other hand, we know that social media can be abused quite seriously," Tun Dr Mahathir told the news conference. "But when we have a law that prevents people from airing their views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law, like what has happened in the last government."

"We do not want any government - this one and succeeding ones - to make use of the law in order to tell fake news, (for) the government to create fake news in order to sustain themselves," added Dr Mahathir. "It will be difficult to handle. But we believe that we can accept the challenges and we can handle them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Bill on online falsehoods a significant step to tackle serious issue: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe