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Reporters Without Borders Rebuffs Online Falsehoods Committee: “This Consultation would be Pointless”

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has rejected an invitation to appear before a select committee in Singapore set up to tackle online falsehoods.

The international non-governmental organisation said that such a consultation would be “pointless” with the PAP controlling 80 percent of parliament, allowing it to draft any new law without “any real debate”.

Singapore is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Said the RSF in a statement:

 “RSF is among those invited but prefers not to take a position on a draft bill that no one has seen. Inasmuch as Singapore already has some of the world’s most repressive legislation as regards the freedom to inform, RSF questions the need for a new law but is ready to offer its recommendations when it has seen an initial draft.

‘Given the alarming legislative precedents in the city-state, RSF shares the deep concern that Singaporean defenders of the freedom to inform have expressed about this proposed law, which they suspect will be yet another tool for censoring dissent,’ said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF Asia-Pacific desk.

‘We take note of the declared desire of Singapore’s authorities to listen to civil society’s views. Unfortunately, with the ruling party controlling 80% of the parliament, we fear that this law will be adopted without any real debate and without any significant amendments, which means this consultation would be pointless.’”

RSF also condemned the “draconian laws” hampering press freedom in Singapore, and said that the “last thing that Singapore needs is a new law imposing more restrictions”:

“Even since the government announced its intention to legislate on fake news in the spring of 2017, journalists and bloggers have been pointing out that they can already be jailed for libel, for contempt of court, for being a “threat to national security” or for “ill-will against religious or racial groups” – vaguely worded offences that are often used to criminalize any criticism of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong or his government.

The victims include The Online Citizen, a participative community news website that has often been harassed for posting news stories that fail to toe the government line.

In 2013, RSF condemned an online content law that in practice forces news blogs to pay 50,000 Singaporean dollars (38,000 US dollars) to obtain a licence and submit to government censorship. Given the many draconian laws that already encourage self-censorship, the last thing Singapore needs is a new law imposing more restrictions on freely reported news and information.”

The Select Committee said yesterday that RSF had been invited on 9 Mar to give oral evidence at a hearing.

However, RSF’s Asia-Pacific Desk head Daniel Bastard said he was based in Paris and unable to appear physically.

He also replied that that the director of RSF’s East Asia office in Taipei was not available to travel to Singapore on March 23, and asked if a Skype session was possible.

The Select Committee said that Bastard was offered the option of coming on any of the eight days set aside for the public hearings, with his travel costs paid for.

Bastard replied that he will consider coming for the March 27 to 29 sessions, and added that “for organisational reasons”, he would confirm his attendance after getting “approval from my hierarchy”.

Bastard later replied that “Unfortunately I won’t be able to come to Singapore this month, for organisational reasons. Since we are currently preparing our annual index, I need to be fully available at the office and the trip to Singapore will take too long.”

RSF has since been invited to give evidence via video-conference at any time between March 20 to 29.

 

 

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