Coronavirus: No effort spared to push out timely and reliable updates, says Iswaran

Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S Iswaran gave an online media doorstop on the Government’s connectivity, accessibility and content initiatives. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

No effort has been spared to give Singaporeans reliable and timely access to information involving Covid-19 across as many platforms as possible, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said.

The Government took great pains to explain in a transparent manner the rationale for the measures that were rolled out, and any changes it had to make, to build public trust and social cohesion, he told The Sunday Times.

Ensuring that Singaporeans have access to accurate information, while keeping falsehoods at bay, have been two key challenges that his ministry is facing in the fight against Covid-19, said the minister.

The Government tapped a wide range of communication platforms, from television and newspapers to WhatsApp and even online getai shows, to share information regularly, he noted. "The most difficult aspect of this Covid-19 crisis is that decisions have to be made in a very dynamic situation, often where the information is incomplete and the situation is evolving day by day. We have had to adapt our measures as we learn more about the virus from the evidence, the science and the experience of other countries."

To combat "egregious falsehoods that harm our safety and public interest", the Government also used powers under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act to issue correction directions and take-down orders. The Act has been invoked at least seven times in relation to Covid-19, including fake news reports of Singapore's first Covid-19 death and an inflated number of new cases, as well as claiming a cover-up by the Health Ministry.

Covid-19 "heightened public awareness of the harm that can be caused by fake news, and the importance of trusted sources for information," Mr Iswaran said. He noted that the Government's portal had almost 22 million visits since Jan 25, while its WhatsApp account had about 1.12 million subscribers.

Mr Iswaran said he was disappointed that even in a time of crisis, there are people intent on causing alarm and panic by spreading false rumours. This is "completely irresponsible behaviour with a total disregard for the well-being of fellow citizens", he said. "Fortunately, they are a small minority and we will deal with them firmly."

Singapore's overall response attests to the kindness, cohesion and resilience of our society, he said. He lauded healthcare workers and others on the front line who "have risen to this challenge marvellously", as well as Singapore Armed Forces soldiers and grassroots volunteers who packed and distributed face masks nationwide in a matter of days.

While the Government worked with telcos and the media in Singapore to provide more diverse and free content during the circuit breaker period when most are staying home, companies such as CrimsonLogic, HP and Netlink Trust stepped forward to ensure low-income families have their digital needs met, like access to the Internet, said Mr Iswaran.

Singaporeans from all walks of life also stepped forward to help, like Project Belanja, a community project to provide meals to migrant workers. "It is this resilience and cohesive spirit of our Singapore society - individuals, volunteers, front-line workers, businesses and many others - that gives me the confidence that we will overcome Covid-19 and emerge stronger."

Lim Yan Liang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 03, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: No effort spared to push out timely and reliable updates, says Iswaran. Subscribe