Fake news law not an attempt to suppress opinions: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the opening plenary session at the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland on May 10, 2019.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the opening plenary session at the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland on May 10, 2019.PHOTO: ST. GALLEN SYMPOSIUM/YOUTUBE

ZURICH • The new law to combat online fake news is not an attempt to suppress different opinions, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday. But such differences in opinion must be grounded in fact in order for "good discourse" to take place, he added.

Speaking to journalists at the end of a five-day study visit to Switzerland, Mr Heng was asked about opposition to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which Parliament passed on Wednesday.

MPs debated for 14 hours over two days on the Bill, which has drawn concerns that it could potentially be abused by the Government to stifle criticism and have a chilling effect on free speech.

"To expect that 100 per cent of people would agree on a particular course of action is not realistic," said Mr Heng, noting there will be people who have concerns and think a different course should be taken.

"But when you think about it, as Minister Shanmugam made very clear, as well as several other ministers who have spoken, this is not an attempt at suppressing different opinions," he added.

Mr Heng recounted a recent meeting with a group of Americans during his work trip to the United States, who told him they were taught as children that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

"But these opinions have to be grounded in fact, in truth," Mr Heng said. "If you and I disagree because we have completely different assumptions on what the facts are... we don't actually have good discourse, because we can't debate (the topic's) merits based on verifiable facts.

"Worse still, if one party bases an opinion on an entirely erroneous set of facts, we will come to the wrong conclusion."

Linette Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Fake news law not an attempt to suppress opinions: DPM'. Print Edition | Subscribe