All you need to know about the debate on Spores proposed fake news laws [TODAY Online]

POFMA was passed by Parliament on Wednesday, May 8 2019.

TODAY Online


SINGAPORE — The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (Pofma) was passed by Parliament on Wednesday (May 8) at about 10.20 pm after a marathon debate involving seven political office holders and 31 Members of Parliament (MP) over two days.

In a wrap-up speech stretching over an hour, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam rebutted the various points raised by the Workers’ Party (WP), which had opposed the Bill.

WP chief Pritam Singh called for a division twice, at the second and third readings. In a division, the vote of each MP is collected and tabulated through an electronic voting system to ascertain whether the motion has the support of two-thirds of the total number of elected MPs.

In the first instance, 74 MPs — comprising the PAP MPs and Nominated MPs who were present — voted yes while all nine WP MPs voted no and one NMP abstained. In the second vote, 72 MPs, including PAP MPs and NMPs, voted yes. All 9 WP MPs voted no, while 3 NMPs abstained.

Here is a list of TODAY’s stories from Wednesday's debate:

Wrapping up the two-day debate on Wednesday night, My Shanmugam slammed the WP for opposing the Bill with “stock phrases” and speeches that, among other things, conflate opinion with facts.

Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran said there were three main considerations in deciding why Ministers are best placed to issue orders against falsehoods. He added that a new Pofma office would be setup under the IMDA.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that the proposed laws do not apply to empirically-based research by the science faculties as well as interpretive research carried out by the humanities departments. 

In 2003, two economists released a study that said one out of four new jobs went to Singaporean residents. This turned out to be wrong, earning a sharp rebuke from a minister then. On Wednesday, Mr Ong said the the two academics would not be considered to have propagated falsehoods under proposed fake news laws.

Three NMPs asked Parliament to lift the whip so that MPs could vote on an amendment, which proposes changes to limit the scope of powers granted to ministers in the Bill.

From Tuesday’s debate:

WP argued that the proposed laws would place too much powers in the hands of the ministers to decide what is fake news. WP chief Pritam Singh instead called for the Courts to be the "first decision-maker" while his predecessor Low Thia Khiang accused the Government of having a "hidden agenda" in introducing the Bill. 

Democracy is under threat, as people all over the world are losing trust in their governments. What is making the distrust worse is the fact that both mainstream and new media are being used to spread falsehoods, said Mr Shanmugam. The results can be disastrous, even violent, he warned, as he outlined why Singapore needs to enact laws against fake news.

An appeal to the courts to challenge a minister’s order relating to fake news can be heard as quickly as nine days after an individual files the challenge, and no court fees will be imposed for the first three days of hearing. These were some details of the appeal process laid out by Mr Shanmugam.  

The Bill gives the Government too much powers and the definition of what is in the "public interest" is too wide. These two criticisms of the Bill were among five that Mr Shanmugam addressed, as he also chided critics for their limited understanding of the proposed laws. 

Amidst concerns that the sweeping Bill might stifle free speech, the Minister also laid out examples of what constitutes fake news.


Source: TODAY Online

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