Sin­ga­pore starts land­mark public hear­ing on fake news

New Straits Times - - WORLD -

SIN­GA­PORE: Sin­ga­pore yes­ter­day be­gan a public hear­ing on how to tackle the threat of fake news, with speak­ers sug­gest­ing mea­sures rang­ing from block­ing web­sites to bal­anc­ing the in­ter­ests of na­tional se­cu­rity and free speech.

It is among the coun­tries look­ing to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to rein in fake news, a trend that has stirred con­cern that such laws could be used to ex­ert gov­ern­ment con­trol over me­dia.

A panel set up to con­sider pos­si­ble mea­sures, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion, drew 164 writ­ten re­sponses from the public, a record for re­ac­tions to such a com­mit­tee on any is­sue.

“There are wor­ries about how leg­is­la­tion may sti­fle the free­dom of speech,” Carol Soon, a spe­cial­ist in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and new me­dia at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore (NUS), said.

There should be “fine bal­anc­ing of the in­ter­ests of pro­tect­ing na­tional se­cu­rity and public or­der, and the in­ter­ests of en­abling peo­ple to speak up and have mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion per­tain­ing to gov­er­nance”, she added.

She was among 79 peo­ple asked to speak in Par­lia­ment over the eight days set for the hear­ing, which would make it the long­est in Sin­ga­pore’s his­tory.

Mathew Mathews, a so­cial pol­icy re­searcher at NUS, pro­posed that the gov­ern­ment “stop the ac­cess to me­dia sites which fea­ture de­lib­er­ate on­line false­hoods that threaten Sin­ga­pore’s so­cial har­mony”.

Oth­ers felt such ac­tion would be in­ef­fec­tive.

“It is no longer pos­si­ble to stop ‘fake news’ sim­ply by block­ing web­sites or pub­li­ca­tions be­cause so­cial me­dia utilises per­son-top­er­son shar­ing,” said An­dre Ahchak, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor in the of­fice of Sin­ga­pore’s Ro­man Catholic arch­bishop.

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