PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday defended Singapore’s proposed law to fight “online falsehoods”, but his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, warned that anti-fake news laws were a double-edged sword that could be abused by governments to stay in power.
The two leaders were speaking after annual talks Tuesday aimed at resolving disputes over maritime boundaries, airspace management and the price of water that had strained ties since Mahathir’s alliance swept to power in elections last May.
Lee said many countries, including France, Germany and Australia, have legislation to combat fake news.
Singapore took nearly two years to deliberate on the issue before the government unveiled a bill in parliament last week to combat fake news, he said. The law allows the government to remove online content it deems as false and includes a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines.
“This is the problem of fake news and deliberate false statement being proliferated online. It is a serious problem which confronts many countries,” Lee said at a joint news conference.
“Singapore is not the only one which has taken legislation on this issue,” he said. “The French have done so, the Germans have done so. The Australians have just done so, something similar and very draconian. The British are also thinking of doing this as well. So Singapore had to do this and we had a long process … finally we have this bill and it will be debated in the house and I hope eventually it will become legislation.”
Lee rejected criticisms from rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders which had voiced fear the law could further stifle free speech in Singapore, which already has stern laws on public protests and dissent.