Singapore activists criticized on Monday a parliamentary committee which is examining possible legislation to combat “fake news,” saying it had misrepresented their views and threatened those who gave evidence.
The 10-member committee was set up in January to tackle online falsehoods, which the government says can threaten national security. The activists said in a joint statement that despite engaging in good faith, they were “harangued, harassed, threatened and misrepresented.”
“Numerous leading questions were asked. Members of the Select Committee repeatedly insisted on yes or no answers to their questions, despite repeatedly being told of the importance of context and nuance,” said the statement.
It was signed by civil liberty groups the Community Action Network (CAN); Function 8; journalist and activist Kirsten Han; Terry Xu, who runs an online blog; and historian Thum Ping Tjin.
The activists have lodged official complaints — saying that their testimonies had been “grossly misrepresented” in official daily summaries.
Separately, Human Rights Watch last week slammed the committee and declined to testify, calling it “an effort to discredit critics of Singapore’s repressive policies and practices.” The Singapore government had earlier criticised the New York-based rights group as “biased and untruthful” after it failed to send a representative to testify.
During eight days of hearings which ended Thursday, the committee heard from 69 individuals and organisations including internet giants Facebook and Google. It will deliberate and work on a report when parliament reconvenes in May, chairman Charles Chong said.
Wealthy Singapore is among the countries looking to introduce legislation to rein in fake news, a move it says is intended to protect and enhance free speech. Critics have said it could be used to stifle free expression and control the media.
Neighbouring Malaysia on Monday passed a “fake news” law which punishes purveyors of alleged falsehoods by up to six years’ jail on conviction.
Singapore is ranked 151st on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, with Norway ranked the freest at number one. Officials in the city-state, however, say local media outlets enjoy high levels of credibility according to the Edelman Trust Barometer Index.