"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Links - 28th May 2019 (1) (Fake News in Singapore)

on speech: has the government ever spread misinformation in Singapore? - "In the late 1980s, Lee Hsien Loong, then trade and industry minister, was one of the politicians who alleged that a group of people were plotting a Marxist Conspiracy.In 2001, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, then senior minister, said “from what I knew of them [the alleged conspirators], most were social activists but were not out to subvert the system.”Sadly, one of our two leaders has got his facts wrong. Since both statements are still in the public domain, I hope our new, superpower “true-or-false” ministers will soon decide and strike down the lie... One curious clause in the government’s new bill is General Exemption #61. “The Minister may, by order in the Gazette, exempt any person or class of persons from any provision of this Act.”Well, dear reader, you don’t need to guess whom they are going to exempt; they already did so in the last election—none of those mainstream media channels were punished.Likewise, no action was taken against PAP politician Charles Chong, whose printed flyers made a wild, false accusation against the Workers Party ahead of the election. Quite the contrary. After spreading what seems to be fake news, Chong was appointed chair of the government’s fake news committee (yes, you read that right.)"

Online falsehoods bill: Will words in legislation mean whatever S’pore govt chooses them to mean? - "It is clear that any prosecution under Clause 7 of the Act would be judged by the courts, not ministers. Clause 7 makes it a criminal offence, punishable by fines and imprisonment, to communicate harmful falsehoods deliberately.What is less clear-cut is how the state will handle correction and take-down orders under Part 3 of the Act.The Bill seems to permit a minister to keep the courts out of the picture for a substantial period. This is because an appellant must first go through him. Under Clause 17(2), it is only after the minister has turned down the applicant that an appeal can be made to the High Court.And, under Clauses 17(6) and 19(3), the order remains binding while the outcomes of appeals are pending. Choosing to ignore the order while waiting for your appeal to be decided is a crime, for which an individual can be punished, under Clause 15(1), with up to a year in jail and a S$20,000 fine.Significantly, the Bill does not give the minister a deadline for responding to an appeal.A minister trying to suppress articles about a scandal that could hurt his election prospects, for example, could defer decisions on appeals until the controversy has died down, or after the election has passed, making the articles impotent.A large proportion of news has a short shelf life. It is called “current” affairs for a reason.To say that ministers will permit the courts to be the ultimate arbiters of truth in the long term may satisfy the historian, but it is of no comfort to citizens concerned about the here and now... Under Clause 2(2), a statement is deemed false even if only a portion of it is false or misleading. This means that the targeted media could be caught out on a technicality. The minister can order the entire article — even if it is a comment piece — taken down for a single, immaterial factual error... the judge may quite legitimately feel that the government’s action is
(d) grossly disproportionate, since an isolated factual error does not merit a take-down order.
She may also feel that
(e) the minister’s order, all things considered, did not serve the public interest.
The problem is that the Bill specifies (a), (b), and (c) as the “only” three grounds on which she can set aside the order...
The Bill does not provide for an independent, professional regulatory authority. This deviates from international best practice. If you must have the state regulating media, the regulator should be insulated as much as possible from the whims of political leaders."

Pingtjin Thum - Thinking over the passage of Singapore's "fake... - "Thinking over the passage of Singapore's "fake news" bill, the thing which stands out to me is what the government very pointedly did not say. Academics who study disinformation, the media, and security (like Mohan Dutta, Cherian George, and Ian Chong) all warned that the bill would not work or could even make the effects of "fake news" worse. They were ignored or worse, insulted. Three NMPs in good faith proposed amendments which would further trust by the public and confidence in the rule of law. The government's response dismissed these on legal and technical grounds. Pritam Singh cited Operation Spectrum and Png Eng Huat talked about the falsehoods communicated by the government in Punggol East during the last election. These were ignored. Collectively, these show the government's priorities. A government which claims it wants to build trust and tackle the issue of online falsehoods would not ignore the advice and recommendations of people who study that issue for a living, nor ignore the importance of public trust in rule of law and in the government, nor ignore obvious cases of falsehoods that were perpetuated by the government. These collectively reinforce the notion that this is not a law put forward in good faith to tackle online falsehoods, but is designed to further cement PAP control and silence dissent."

Bertha Henson - Got a shock when Vikram Nair said that the court... - "Got a shock when Vikram Nair said that the court would be overwhelmed with 100s of applications from ministers for POFMA if judges had to be first arbiter. Leon Pereria asked if he really expected so many orders to be applied, he tried to rescue by saying something about how numbers could be high during election time. Think he put his foot in his mouth. Actually makes me wonder if the law WILL be so liberally used..."

Fake news law – to protect who exactly? | Bertha Harian - "the process of determining if something is wrong and in need of correcting can be time-consuming. It requires investigation, an acknowledgement of the error and an agreement on a form of words on both sides before a correction sees daylight. It’s a worthwhile process if only to ensure that the mistake does not occur again. Contrast this, however, with the powers given to ministers under the Bill. Any minister can “deem” something that comes under his domain false and order a correction or a take-down. This, we are told, is in the interest of speed, that is, to prevent an untruth from going viral. It’s a process that brooks no argument. You are guilty as charged. Sure you can appeal. To the same minister who made the decision, not a separate or higher body... Nor do I find comforting the oft-heard argument that the courts are really the final arbiter – simply because the judicial process is the last of a lengthy process under this massive legislation. I am not a lawyer, but I don’t think anyone should need a lawyer to understand a True or False question. Nevertheless, I won’t even try to understand the definition of what is a statement of fact... I worry that the fake news legislation will result in sanitised public discussion – or very little discussion – that is always in the G’s favour. Why do I say that? Because OB markers work very well in Singapore. In recent years, they have got tighter if you consider acts taken against various individuals. Perhaps, each action has a specific basis but the cumulative effect is, to use a well-worn word, chilling... Fake news laws will pull them further in simply because people don’t understand where the line is. How can they? So they will self-censor in the interest of self-preservation. Truth to tell, even journalists find it difficult to traverse this territory. The reiteration that the law will not punish opinion isn’t illuminating. If you look at the Ms Lim’s example, she argued that she was merely articulating an opinion or what some people feel. But the PAP was strenuous about wanting her to retract a false statement. Couple the fake news legislation with the debate on hate speech which all happened on the same day and you get people wondering if even the truth/facts will get you into trouble if it is mildly offensive. This is despite the G making clear that no new regulations on hate speech is on the horizon... It doesn’t help that the Bill seems to give the judges limited grounds to overturn a directive either... while we can place our trust in individualities and personalities in charge of the system, we must still ensure that our system is robust enough to withstand not-so-good men and women. The People’s Action Party government acknowledged this when it introduced the elected Presidency in 1988 to counteract a future rogue government. Before it dismisses detractors of this Bill, it should consider that it had its own misgivings about power being in the “wrong” hands some three decades ago. This reservation should still apply today... I suppose there will be more support for the Bill if the G sells it as protecting the vulnerable from fake news about fake rice, medical remedies and what is poisonous or not. That’s the good part about the Bill. Then again, the Protection from Harassment Act was sold at first as a recourse for individuals affected by cyber-stalking – until you see even the Defence Ministry resorting to it – unsuccessfully"

Singapore's anti-fake news bill: a primer - "the PAP labelled Human Rights Watch’s report on freedom of expression in Singapore a “deliberate falsehood”. And during the Select Committee open hearing Edwin Tong claimed that my article was misleading because I had referred to “a sit-down demonstration for a cause”, rather than “a sit‑down demonstration for a cause attracts a large group of sympathisers who voluntarily join the sit‑in. For over a week, the group grows and the demonstrators start to occupy the publicly accessible paths and other open spaces in the central business district. Their presence starts to impede the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and interfere with normal trade or business activities in the area.” So that’s the context in which we have to ponder the PAP government’s definition of “false or misleading”... One of the ways in which this Bill has been pitched is that it “follows in the footsteps of other countries like France and Germany, which have enacted similar legislation.” In France, the anti-fake news law allows political parties and candidates to apply to the courts to get false information removed. (This was massively controversial, by the way.) Germany’s NetzDG (also very controversial) applies to social media platforms, not media or messaging services. It requires social media platforms to remove or block illegal content, i.e. content that is already banned by German laws.In neither of these cases are government ministers given the power to issue takedown orders or correction notices. In the French case, politicians apply to the courts—it’s the courts that rule on whether something gets taken down or not, whereas in Singapore it’s the other way ‘round, where the Minister decides first, and then you can appeal to the court if you are rich enough or brave enough."

Academic Freedom in Singapore and the “Fake News” Law - "In recent years, Singapore’s globally recognised and “world class” universities have done exceptionally well in science and engineering, and less well in the humanities and social sciences. This is not by accident. In the latter, especially when it comes to research about Singapore society, we have much room for improvement... Two issues are particularly noteworthy: one, limited access to information about the population and the government; and two, a conservative university culture partly stemming from academics’ fears of offending the government... Among academics in Singapore, it is an open secret that work is circumscribed by the government’s desires. At conferences and workshops, academics awkwardly and regularly “joke”, tilting their heads to glance over shoulders, about their remarks being heard by “the government”. Students and younger scholars regularly ask if they should avoid certain topics because of “sensitivities”.These anxieties have been generated through multiple levers of governmental power. Government officials maintain close contact with academics and directly communicate their preferences and displeasures. Academics are publicly named and sometimes chastised when perceived as critical of the government; without equal access to mainstream media, our right to respond is curtailed. High-profile examples of public shaming, or the denial of jobs or tenure, send shudders through the community. On many important topics about Singapore, research is directly commissioned by government agencies, and academics must seek permission before releasing findings. The government has influence over the funding sources that academics rely on for research... the way the Bill defines a “false” statement: “a statement is false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears.”This means that an individual who calls attention to matters where information is incomplete—which might be due to the state guarding data tightly—faces high risks. Fears of being partially incorrect will likely further encourage self-censorship."

COMMENT - Fake news bill: Time for lawyers, MPs to speak - "The 90-minute speech was a lead up to the first reading of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which will grant the government wide-ranging powers to act against what it deems to be fake news... This covers six areas, including national security, public health, public finance, public safety and tranquillity in the friendly relations between Singapore and other countries and the weakening of public confidence in the government.It is the sixth condition that has upset and unsettled many. The proposed law allows any minister, without any oversight and check, to act against those whom they believe are guilty of contravening the law. This is unprecedented in modern Singapore’s legal history. Let us not forget that we are talking about human beings, not some supreme saints, and they are more than capable of erring. Even saints, as shown in the sexual abuse cases in the Vatican, are not really saints... Another troubling aspect of the proposed legislation is the proposal to exempt anyone – yes, anyone – from the ambit of the Bill. It reads: “The Minister may, by order in the Gazette, exempt any person or class of persons from the provision of this Act,’’ This is mystifying at best and highly suspicious at worst. Who could this person/persons be? Why should they be protected? What makes them so special? The government has made a big deal of this by saying it doesn’t have the final say and that an aggrieved person can appeal to the court. But there are a few hurdles to cross. An appeal can be made only after an individual or organisation has gone to the Minister of Law to cancel the order and the Minister has refused to do so.Then there is the headache of legal costs. How many will have the money and the stamina to pursue the case in court?"

Andrew Loh - From The Edge. Do note the last point where any... - "Singapore's 'fake news' bill compared with France's and Germany's"
"From The Edge.
Do note the last point where any member of the public can make a complaint of offensive posts.
In Singapore's proposed fake news law, all the power seems to be given to the ministers, almost exclusively, to decide what is falsehood."

Bertha Henson. - "//Conversely, mistrust in public institutions facilitates the uptake of falsehoods. According to Dr Berzins, a national security expert from Latvia, any gap between the authorities and society is a key vulnerability that can be used as leverage by adversaries. He cautioned that when people lose faith in public institutions, the chances of success for disinformation operations increase significantly. In that regard, public institutions are a central source of information for society. If people lose trust in public institutions, they may turn instead to less reliable alternative sources of information. Other representors echoed the similar view that deliberate online falsehoods thrived on the lack of public trust.//
Agree. Falsehoods fester when public institutions are not FULLY transparent with information. Case in point: ministerial salaries and calculation of bonuses."

Poll: 63% Of Singaporeans Afraid They’ll Get In Trouble For Expressing Political Views - "63% of Singaporeans are concerned that openly expressing political views online could get them into trouble with the authorities. These figures were released by the Reuters Institute in their 2018 Digital News Report... In a survey of 37 countries, Singapore came in 2nd, behind Turkey, when it came to concerns about expressing political views for fear of retaliation from the government... countries like Singapore and Turkey have introduced legislation in recent years curbing free speech and political dissent. Singapore’s Parliament recently passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) which criminalizes the dissemination of fake news online. The law gives the government far-reaching powers to determine what is fake news and who is exempt from the law. Critics have argued that the potential that it could be abused for political purposes is high.In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has been widely condemned for its imprisonment of hundreds of journalists and human rights activists on trumped up charges of “terrorism” or “insulting the President”."

Lynn Lee - "Just finished going through the draft “fake news” bill. Had to stop a few times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. So, under the proposed legislation, the government gets to decide what constitutes a falsehood. It gets to order takedowns, to demand the posting of “correction notices”, to insist that access to certain sites be blocked. Failure to comply can lead to lengthy jail terms and hefty fines. In its press release, the Law Ministry attempts to assure us there’s nothing to worry about - because appeals are allowed and judges get the final say on what is false. But how many people have the time or the means to go to court? Or are brave enough to do so? Folks, the PAP just made itself the arbiter of truth. If this doesn’t frighten you, consider the fact that this is the party that conjured up the falsehood that was the “Marxist Conspiracy”. Innocent people were imprisoned without trial, Singapore’s mainstream media roped in to help propagate lies. This is the government that’s happy to change the meaning of words to suit its own agenda. So, a single person can constitute an “illegal assembly”. An indoor Skype discussion is a “public assembly”. A lone artist walking down the street with a mirror is an illegal “procession”. Taking a photo is the same as holding a protest. Scotch-taping two pieces of paper on a train is “vandalism”. The PAP aren’t satisfied with being able to say whatever shit they like. No. They want to be able to stop us from saying things they don’t like. And just to make sure we know who’s boss, the draft bill gives the Minister the right to exempt any person from any provision of the proposed act. It seems a bit shameless and self-serving. And given that this is likely an election year, entirely too convenient. But apparently, it’s all for our own good. The Law Ministry insists the government isn’t trying to curb free speech. Rather, they’re promoting “healthy and robust public discourse”. They’re protecting “democratic processes and society”. Yeah, and freedom is slavery and weakness is strength. Welcome to 1984, everybody."

Andrew Loh - ""[If] you say the government is made up of idiots no one can sue you because that will be considered an opinion, and you are entitled to that opinion, based on your assessment of government policies."
- K Shanmugam, November 2012.
"Opinions have to be grounded in fact, in truth."
- Heng Swee Keat, May 2019.
So, now after POFMA, can still say gahmen is made up of idiots anot? Must be "grounded in fact, in truth" anot? If not "grounded in fact, in truth", then does it come under fake news law anot?
So confusing lah.
Aiya, better just shut up lah."

Bertha Henson - After the way the POFMA bill was rushed through,... - "Dialogue key to fostering trust between Govt and people: Heng"
"After the way the POFMA bill was rushed through, the deafening silence of PAP MPs to concerns, I am not sure I believe him anymore. That’s my opinion."

When I told a friend in Taiwan that the... - Roy Yi Ling Ngerng - "When I told a friend in Taiwan that the Singapore government has created a new law that would allow the ministers to decide what fake news is, and ask for articles to be taken down, my friend said: this is not a fake news law, this is a censorship law.In effect, the PAP government has created one law to rule them all. This law will now give the PAP ministers a sweeping right to persecute individuals swiftly without having to go through the cumbersome-ness of previous laws... Just before 2014 when everything happened, many Singaporeans were still holding on to the misconception that our CPF retirement funds are not invested in GIC. After May 2014 when everything began, the government finally admitted to the truth. Your CPF is invested in the GIC. This is a fact.Not long ago, Singaporeans still believed the government's claim that HDB public housing flat prices will keep rising. Today, we know flat prices will drop because they only have 99-year leases. This is a fact... When the former Malaysian governing party came out with a fake news law, the citizens overthrew them at the election."

Twitter blocks French government with its own fake news law - "France requires online political campaigns to declare who paid for them, and how much was spent.But now Twitter has rejected a government voter registration campaign.The company could not find a solution to obey the letter of the new law, officials said – and opted to avoid the potential problem altogether... Interior Minister Christophe Castanter also took to the platform to express frustration with the decision. "Twitter's priority should be to fight content that glorifies terrorism. Not campaigns to register on the electoral lists of a democratic republic.""
Maybe they should have carved out an exemption for the government, like they do in Singapore (e.g. PDPA)
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