Asia & Australia

November 26, 2019

Singapore invokes ‘fake news’ law for the first time

[ By Kavita Krishnan ]

On 25th November 2019, Singapore invoked its controversial law against fake news for the first time to order correction of a Facebook post by Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Brad Bowyer.

“In a recent Facebook post, Mr. Brad Bowyer implied that the Government was involved in individual investment decisions of GIC and Temasek. He was issued with a Correction Direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Act on 25 November 2019,” the Singapore Ministry of Finance said in a statement.

In another Facebook post, Bowyer had said that “…We also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project part of the S$4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by Government-linked companies (GLCs) and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all…”. There are implicit factual assertions that (1) a substantial part of S$4 billion invested in Andhra Pradesh was put into the Amaravati project; and (2) S$4 billion has been poorly invested (“dumped”) by GLCs and related parties in Andhra Pradesh.”

On its fact-checking website Factually, the Singapore government said that these are false.

According to the statement, Bowyer’s Facebook post contains “clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government”.

The Factually website also added that, “The Facebook post by Mr. Brad Bowyer contains false statements of fact and misleading statements.”

Singapore invoked the new law as Bowyer’s Facebook post implied that the government controls Temasek and GIC’s commercial decisions, which is false.

“GIC and Temasek operate on a commercial basis, and the Government is not involved in their individual investment decisions,” the statement added.

The Singapore Ministry of Finance (MOF), echoing this, said that Temasek and GIC have made positive returns over the long term and have contributed significantly to the national budget, contrary to the huge losses that Mr. Bowyer implied they would incur in his post.

The Singapore Government, on its “Factually” website mentioned that the investment company and sovereign wealth fund are run on market principles, independent of the Government.

Bowyer had put up a correction note at the top of his Facebook post saying that the post “contains false statements of fact”, along with a link to an article providing the correct facts, the Straits Times reported.

The Singapore Parliament passed POFMA in May and it took effect on October 2.

The legislation allows the government to decide what information is listed as false based on two criteria: when a false statement or announcement is issued, and when this action is considered to be of public interest.

The legislation was passed amid criticism from opponents and activists who considered it as an attack on freedom of expression.

Singapore says it is particularly vulnerable to fake news because of its position as a global financial hub, its mixed ethnic and religious population and widespread internet access.

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