SINGAPORE: The Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) and Singapore Press Club have called for a “nuanced and measured” approach against fake news to "maintain a marketplace of ideas while not restricting professional journalism".
“The need to prevent and curb the spread of deliberate online falsehoods (DOFs) may be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a means to assert more control over the press and journalism in Singapore,” the groups wrote in a joint-written representation to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.
The SCCA is a group that represents the interest of in-house lawyers, while the Singapore Press Club is a networking organisation for those working in the media.
The measures to counter DOFs should not curtail “serious-minded journalism” in Singapore, the groups said. Neither should the measures discourage the “fair and lawful exchange of opinions and ideas”, they added, calling for a clear distinction between fact and opinion.
“The danger is that if we don’t make that distinction, it will tilt towards accusations that we are not allowing freedom of expression of opinion,” said Singapore Press Club president Patrick Daniel before the Select Committee on Friday (Mar 23).
This comes as the groups highlighted the complexities of misinformation, which can range from satire to fabricated content.
AdvertisementAdvertisement“It is readily apparent that the sharing of fabricated content needs to be prevented and curbed,” they wrote. “However, for some types of ‘problematic content’, the answer to whether such content are truly ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ is less straightforward.”
For example, they pointed out that genuine information can sometimes be shared with false contextual information.
“There will be a lot of grey areas as to what exactly falls under that definition,” Mr Daniel said. “There may be instances where it’s arguable whether it’s malicious or false so we do need some way in which that can be ascertained.”
To that end, the groups called for the establishment of an independent arbiter to decide whether a piece of news or information is really a falsehood and whether the “requisite intent or malice is present to attract culpability”.
Mr Daniel also asked for more clarity in the wording of current legislation, pointing out that while the Broadcasting Act prohibits the transmission of false news, it does not define the word “false”.
“The only point that we’re all trying to make is that those words that you use need clearer definitions,” he said.
Moving on to measures against fake news, Dr Stanley Lai, partner at law firm Allen and Gledhill, stressed the need for more than just take-down orders.
“The strongest effective measure to remove DOFs is also to make sure there is an equally prescriptive and prohibitive consequence for the articulator in the first place,” he said.
And when there are penalties, Mr Daniel also wanted a range of remedies ranging from corrections and apologies to the right of reply.
“Regarding the executive take-downs, could I also suggest that a respondent be allowed to apply for it to be set aside in all fairness,” said Singapore Press Club vice president Lau Joon Nie.
Select Committee member and Law Minister K Shanmugam agreed, saying that there needs to be a “multi-stage process”.
“The take-down comes immediately by the first order and then the person who feels that he is not culpable … may then be entitled to a right of going to some neutral place to have that decided,” he said.
NOT ENOUGH PROTECTION FOR CORPORATIONS
Meanwhile, SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun called for corporate entities to be more protected against DOFs, given that they can spread very quickly “and there’s not a lot we can do to determine where that source is”.
The group had written that corporations are also targets of DOFs, leading to “negative consequences” that can leave a wider social impact.
“Currently, what we know is that recourse through that judicial system is limited, slow and potentially very costly,” Mr Wong said.
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