While rights groups have long warned that Singapore’s fake news law may be used to silence legitimate criticism of the government, opposition politicians have to grapple with the extent of its draconian nature ahead of the July 10 election.
Since campaigning began on July 01,comments made by opposition figures on key issues such as: government spending for foreign students, plans to grow the city-state’s population, and government advisories that discouraged COVID-19 testing for foreign workers, must carry a warning that the statement contains false information.
Concerns about immigration and jobs have dominated discussion during the campaigning as the city-state faces its deepest ever recession due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As yet, no lawmakers from the ruling People’s Action Party – which has governed since independence in 1965 – have been served correction orders. All correction orders have been directed only to opposition parties.
The government has denied suggestions that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) could be used to stifle opposition, and says the law does not curb legitimate criticism or restrict free speech. The POFMA office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Government ministers usually have the power to exercise the law, but during the election period this responsibility has been handed to senior civil servants.
Under the law, authorities can order political parties, news outlets and social media users to carry warnings that their pages or posts contain false statements, and to include links to a government fact-checking website.
The Social Democratic Party, one of the opposition parties that have fallen foul of the law, said in a post that carried the warning that it disputed the “correction” but was bound to comply and would appeal.
Rights groups and opposition parties have criticised the government for calling the election while Singapore was still trying to stamp out COVID-19 infections, though most cases have been in migrant worker dormitories.
The government says it needs a fresh mandate to tackle the economic and social challenges ahead. (Source: Bangkok Post)