You ask, and we will answer: Ong Ye Kung on fake news Bill

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung speaking at the Singapore Buddhist Federation's Vesak Day celebration event at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza on April 28, 2019. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The proposed fake news laws are targeted at the creators of falsehoods and not at those who disseminate them, and the authorities will explain these laws in detail to assuage the public's concerns, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday (April 28).

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 against the harm caused by online falsehoods on society," said Mr Ong.

The proposed laws would give all ministers the power to decide whether a statement is false or misleading and against public interest, and they could lead to an order for a correction to be made or for it to be taken down if deemed so.

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

The Government will address the public's worries and concerns on these new laws, and give detailed explanations of them, Mr Ong said.

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

But combatting 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 the recent terror attacks in Christchurch and Sri Lanka are stark reminders of the threats that Singapore face 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 despite of, all the efforts we invested to maintain social and racial harmony. We shall not take it for granted."

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

As per tradition, the federation invited leaders from different faiths to attend the one-day event, and members of Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation were also guests.

According to Ven Seck, thousands of people turned up for the carnival event, which featured vegetarian food stalls and stalls selling Buddhism-related goods.

"We are a multi-religious country. We must try our best to embody the spirit," said Ven Seck.

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