Photo of SPH papers from Yahoo Singapore

According to a survey conducted by BBC Global News, 84% of the Singaporeans surveyed are concerned about fake news. This result is however not surprising given that the government-controlled media is ranked 151th in the world for credibility.

Fake news is rampant in Singapore due to the government’s tight media censorship laws – notorious for being one of the strictest in the world. In Singapore, any blog covering news  will have to agree to a S$50,000 bond and comply any take-down notice issued by the censorship board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) within 24 hours. The stringent censorship regime has however worsened the state of news credibility in Singapore as most Singaporeans are heavily dependent on the two government-linked media companies, Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp.

Propaganda fake news circulated by the national newspaper, Straits Times, are immune to fake news regulation by the authority. Straits Times even have full-time propaganda writers, known as Opinion Editors, to furnish fake details creating fear against independent news sites or government critics, and propagate lopsided arguments to promote government policies.

For decades since independence, the Singapore government and its state media have been suffering numerous timeless criticisms for media manipulation. Singapore’s best media ranking in press freedom was 149th in 2013, since then it has never progressed better than its neighbours like Malaysia or Indonesia.

Interestingly, the Singapore government is turning its weakness around and pressing the same accusations against its critics – calling them fake news and threatening to take actions. Earlier this year, following numerous reporting unfavourable to the ruling party government, Law Minister K Shanmugam flew into a rage at a press conference calling States Times Review a “fake news” and vowed to make it “feel the pain”.

The Singapore government’s hands are however tied as States Times Review is based in Australia. Despite so, the government said that they are going to write new laws to ban the website which it claims is a “foreign weapon”:

“There is a much more serious dimension to all of this. Fake news today, we must assume can be used as an offensive weapon by foreign agencies and foreign governments… to get into the public mind, to destabilise the public, to psychologically weaken them. That’s a very serious threat and it will be naive for us to believe that governments or state agencies don’t engage in this. There is enough evidence that they do… The time has come for us not to simply rebut but to actually actively deal with it — so that the people who seek to profit from such conduct will actually feel the pain of it. We are looking at it and something will be done.”