Satire not covered under fake news law: Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam observing road conditions from an overhead bridge in Yishun Avenue 2 last night. Mr Shanmugam, seen here with Mr Lee Yong Heng, general manager of Mandai zone at SMRT Buses, was visiting the area around the
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam observing road conditions from an overhead bridge in Yishun Avenue 2 last night. Mr Shanmugam, seen here with Mr Lee Yong Heng, general manager of Mandai zone at SMRT Buses, was visiting the area around the newly opened Yishun Integrated Transport Hub. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Erroneous to suggest otherwise, he says after outcry over online post

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday made clear that satire is not covered by a new law to tackle online falsehoods.

"The suggestion that satire is covered by Pofma is erroneous," he said, referring to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act passed in May.

He was responding to questions from reporters on a recent Facebook post by the Media Literacy Council (MLC), which netizens slammed for highlighting satire as one type of fake news.

"Only false statements which objectively would be seen as statements of fact can be caught under Pofma," Mr Shanmugam said, adding that he has been clear on the point about satire both in and out of Parliament.

The council's post, which went online on Sept 5 and was removed last Sunday night, featured a graphic that highlighted six types of fake news: false context, imposter content, manipulated content, misleading content, clickbait and satire.

There were more than 250 comments left on the post as of 5pm last Sunday, most criticising the council and pointing out that satire was not covered by the Act.

On the issue, Mr Shanmugam said the council was made up of good people who "were trying to help in a variety of issues".

 
 
 
 

"I can understand what the MLC was trying to say. But either they made a mistake, or it didn't get said accurately... That is unfortunately not an accurate representation of Pofma," he said during a visit to the area around the newly opened Yishun Integrated Transport Hub.

The council, whose members are appointed by the Minister for Communications and Information, apologised last Sunday.

It acknowledged that its post and infographic gave the wrong impression that satire was fake news, which it said was not its intent.

Under the Act, ministers, advised by other officials, will get to decide whether something is a falsehood and assess its impact on public interest.

Once a judgment is made, they will work with the Pofma Office within the Infocomm Media Development Authority on the action to be taken. This could include an order to run a correction alongside the falsehood, take it down or block certain accounts and sites that are spreading the falsehood.

Mr Shanmugam also spoke to reporters on the traffic congestion outside Yishun Integrated Transport Hub last Monday. Long lines of public buses waiting to turn into the bus interchange had caused jams during the morning and evening rush hour.

The minister said jams like these happen when such hubs open because people are unfamiliar with the changes.

"But it has been sorted out very quickly. By Tuesday, it was sorted out. LTA (the Land Transport Authority) and SMRT have been extremely proactive," said Mr Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC. The transport hub is located within the constituency.

The test will come on Monday when schools reopen after the September holidays, he noted, adding that he was sure LTA and SMRT would sort out the issues, should they arise.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2019, with the headline 'Satire not covered under fake news law: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe