In the 8-day public hearing, Law Minister K Shanmugam did not hide his intention of making the Select Committee his mouthpiece. Based off published videos from Parliament, the controversial minister took up 90% of the air time and he was the only one talking throughout in the Select Committee.
The Law Minister notorious for making unsubstantiated attacks on the Workers’ Party in Parliament, hijacked the Select Committee’s agenda for his personal political gratification. The Select Committee was supposed to be a fact-finding session inviting witnesses of credible standing to offer their opinion on the regulation of “deliberate online falsehoods”.
Unfortunately for K Shanmugam, the Law Minister turned the public hearing into a criminal court. At both exchanges with Facebook representative Simon Milner and Oxford historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin, Minister K Shanmugam attacked their integrity and professional standing in a bid to discredit the critical submissions made. The two reputable professionals were being trialled like a fraudster whose words cannot be trusted. Throughout the gruelling “public hearing”, Minister K Shanmugam operated in a similar insidious fashion: corner his opponents into yes and no answers to find contradictions and making sweeping assumptions.
Facebook’s Simon Milner and Oxford’s Dr Thum Ping Tjin cleverly pointed out that the Law Minister is being unfair demanding only a yes or no answer when every response itself comes with a context. Minister K Shanmugam then went to the extent of delving into topics unrelated to “deliberate falsehoods”, like disputing Facebook’s social media policies and Singapore’s historical facts. What has Facebook’s data breach and the 1950s communist movement got to do with “deliberate falsehoods”? Zilch, the sinister Minister was only asking these irrelevant questions because he was dissatisfied he was being disagreed with.
None of the 9 other Select Committee members say a thing during the exchanges. Chairman Charles Chong was a sitting duck, who should have done his job to moderate the Law Minister when topics get out of point. The Select Committee even went as far as to attack the credibility of a witness who did absent himself from the public hearing. The Human Rights Watch representative’s absence was described by the Law Minister as being guilty by default.
Thanks to the lawless behaviour of the Law Minister, the Select Committee has failed to prove itself as independent. There are now greater consensus among the public that the government is only interested in agreeable content and that any news it disagrees with are labelled as “fake news”. There is no due process, nobody is convinced of the need for more censorship and all these are just a fake media event, as HRW succinctly described.