Screenshot from BBC

Announced in Parliament yesterday (Mar 6), Minister of Communication and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said that the government will impose more censorship laws for foreign news sites to ensure Singaporeans read the right news.

The Broadcasting Act will be “updated” to ensure content of foreign news websites like States Times Review “is in line” with “community values”:

“With overseas content providers directly targeting Singaporeans, the Government needs to ensure that their content is in line with community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony.”

Minister Yaacob highlighted that ruling party PAP MPs have hit out at foreign news websites for “spreading fake news” as Singaporeans no longer read the state media SPH and Mediacorp, and warned that these websites should “report responsibly”:

“Concerns shared by Members of Parliament over the increase in and dangers of fake news during the debate on his ministry’s budget. Singaporeans are no longer limited to services offered by Mediacorp or our subscription TV operators … The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly.”

PAP MP Ong Teng Koon noted that the ruling party government has “limited leverage” over foreign news websites and called for the propaganda ministry to “tackle” them when they distribute “content sensitive to our neighbours”. The PAP MP then warned:

“For a young country like Singapore, the risk of fake news exploiting racial or religious sentiment is real. There is also the challenges of defining objectionable content and fake news, some use the terms loosely to describe any news or opinion they do not agree with.”

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said that new censorship laws will be introduced by this year and that Singaporeans should be “discerning”:

“Yet, even as we update our legislation and regulations, it is even more important that those who use, create and share content on the Internet do so safely and responsibly, while being discerning on any information they find online … We will continue to promote information and media literacy to all Singaporeans, particularly our young and those who may be vulnerable.”

Unlike local websites, owners and writers for foreign news sites are based overseas and hence not subjected to the ruling party’s abuse of the defamation lawsuit and the Sedition Act. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was labelled a “media predator” by the international press freedom community, for numerous such abuses.