New law to make sites accountable for fake news

It will require them to carry corrections on fake news or even remove articles in extreme cases

The new Bill will give the Government the power to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate falsehoods, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PHOTO: MEDIACORP

Singapore is to introduce a law that will require online news sites to publish corrections or warnings on fake news, or even remove such articles in extreme cases, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

These new measures to tackle the spread of fake news are part of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which will be introduced in Parliament on Monday.

The move, a key recommendation of a Select Committee, will put Singapore among the first countries to take steps to legislate this increasingly serious problem faced by many countries.

PM Lee said the Bill will empower the Government to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they allow deliberate falsehoods to proliferate.

"This includes requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter.

"In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done," he added in a speech on the changing media landscape at the 20th anniversary celebrations of news provider Channel NewsAsia, which will now be called CNA.

Also at the event at St Regis hotel, attended by about 300 people, were Mrs Lee, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran and his Senior Ministers of State Janil Puthucheary and Sim Ann.

On Monday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam is scheduled to deliver a ministerial statement on restricting hate speech to maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore.

An Institute of Policy Studies research paper released on Thursday showed that one in four Singaporeans has no qualms about allowing extremist religious leaders to share their views online, as long as they do not instigate harm against others.

Fake news plagues many nations, and PM Lee said governments are studying it closely and deciding what measures to take. The French have passed a law allowing their judges to order the immediate removal of fake news from the Internet during election campaigns.

But legislation alone is not enough, PM Lee said. Such laws must be supplemented by citizens who are alert to the problem of fake news, well-informed of what is going on in the world, and provided with the means to make sound assessments of what they read and hear, he added.

Students are taught information literacy and cyber wellness in schools, and the National Library Board provides tips on such issues for the general population. The Government's Factually website also publishes the facts on government policies or issues of public interest.

"But spotting fake news is easier said than done. In general, people are overconfident about their ability to do so," PM Lee said, adding that even the most intelligent and well-trained people can fall victim to such falsehoods.

CNA, therefore, plays an important role in Singapore's society, he said, urging it to invest in its people, build capabilities, and take advantage of Singapore's status as a media and technology hub. "The Government... will work hand in hand with you," he said. "We share an interest in fostering an informed society through quality journalism."

Mediacorp chairman Niam Chiang Meng noted: "Accuracy is no longer as valued as in the past. It is no wonder that public indifference and cynicism have grown."

CNA, he said, intends to be an impartial provider of accurate information and insights.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline New law to make sites accountable for fake news. Subscribe