No need to be overly worried about fake news laws, says Ong Ye Kung

The proposed fake news laws are targeted at the creators of falsehoods and not at those who disseminate them, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday, noting that the authorities will explain these laws in detail to assuage the public's concerns.

He added that "everyone need not be overly worried", as the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act does not target opinions, criticisms, satire or parody.

Speaking at the Singapore Buddhist Federation's Vesak Day celebration event at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, Mr Ong said it is important to have strict laws to prohibit speech and actions that try to divide people of different religions and races.

The Government must take action to prevent harm to society caused by online falsehoods, he added.

The proposed laws will give all ministers the power to decide whether a statement is false or misleading and against public interest, and could lead to an order for a correction to be made or for the statement to be removed.

Since its introduction in Parliament earlier on April 1, the Bill has triggered concern among the public that it could lead to self-censorship and limit free speech.

The Government will address the worries and concerns over the new laws, and give detailed explanations of them, Mr Ong said.

"You ask, and we will answer, and we will solve these problems together,"said the minister.

But combating fake news will take more than just the law, and it is important for citizens to stand together to fight the spread of fake news, he added.

"I hope everyone will be on alert at all times, and verify news before spreading it to your friends and families," said Mr Ong.

He said that the recent terror attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka are stark reminders of the threats that Singapore faces in being an open and globally connected multiracial and multi-religious society.

"We are not immune to hate speech and falsehoods that are deliberately created and spread with malicious intent to sow discord among the different communities," said Mr Ong.

"What we enjoy today is because of, and not in spite of, all the efforts we invested to maintain social and racial harmony. We shall not take it for granted."

Venerable Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said yesterday's event was a good opportunity for people of different faiths to come together to understand Buddhism, in addition to connecting Buddhists from all around the country.

According to him, thousands of people turned up for the carnival, patronising its vegetarian food stalls and those selling Buddhism-related goods.

The event was also a celebration of the federation's 70th anniversary, and Singapore's bicentennial.

A protest against the fake news Bill was held yesterday at Hong Lim Park, where activists such as former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian and academic and former politician James Gomez took the stage to voice their concerns.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline No need to be overly worried about fake news laws, says Ong Ye Kung. Subscribe