Use of fake news law on opposition is ‘coincidence’: Minister
S. Iswaran says authorities look at overall impact of misinformation, not who put it up
When it comes to fake news, the authorities look into whether it is in the public interest to act against the misinformation, not at who put up the piece, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said yesterday.
In the four cases where Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) has been exercised so far, the fact that they have been against opposition or opposition-affiliated individuals and groups is "convergence, some might say an unfortunate convergence or coincidence", he added.
Three of the four cases involved opposition parties or their members, including the Singapore Democratic Party, People's Voice leader Lim Tean and Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer.
The fourth involved Mr Alex Tan, the administrator of the States Times Review website. Mr Tan had run in the 2011 General Election under the Reform Party.
Mr Iswaran said: "If you look at it in totality, we have to take into account the overall impact, then we have to consider what is the proportionate response, and then be prepared to take it.
"If it so happens that some of the people involved are politically affiliated, that's just the consequence of their actions."
He was replying in Parliament yesterday to Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Walter Theseira on the use of Pofma.
Both had raised concerns on the frequency and use of the Act, which has, since it came into effect on Oct 2 last year, been used against opposition politicians or affiliated individuals and groups.
Mr Iswaran said that in the four cases, the false statements of fact were about "issues of fundamental importance to Singaporeans".
Failing to deal decisively with such falsehoods will erode or even undermine public trust in Singapore's institutions, with serious consequences for its democracy, he added.
Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim asked Mr Iswaran about the rationale behind the obligations placed on digital advertising and Internet intermediaries under Pofma, such as the need to ensure that all online political advertisements carry disclosure notices on the person or organisation who had placed or paid for the ad.
The Code also requires the intermediary to have information available on how much was paid for the ad, its target audience and total number of views, among other information.
Ms Lim also questioned the need for the Pofma Office to have access to the database.
In response, Mr Iswaran said that the Code will help ensure transparency and help make sure that there is full disclosure so that the public will be able to make educated choices.
He stressed that while intermediaries are required to maintain this information, "it doesn't mean that the Pofma Office has to have access to this information".
He said it was to ensure that should there be a need, the information is available, rather than trying to gather the facts after an incident has already occurred.