Law to tackle online falsehoods not an attempt to suppress different opinions: Heng Swee Keat

Law to tackle online falsehoods not an attempt to suppress different opinions: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore's anti-fake news law passed by Parliament on May 8, 2019, is not an attempt at suppressing different opinions. Elaborating, he said it's important to make a clear distinction between fact and opinion. Jeremy Koh with this report.

ZURICH: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore's anti-fake news law passed by Parliament on Wednesday (May 8), is not an attempt at suppressing different opinions.

Elaborating, he said it's important to make a clear distinction between fact and opinion.

He said: "If we disagree because we have completely different assumption of what the facts are, what the realities are, we don't actually have a good discourse, because you can't then debate the merits of it based on a set of verifiable facts.

"Worse still, if one party (bases) an opinion on an entirely erroneous set of facts, than we will probably come to the wrong conclusion. So I think it's important to make a clear distinction between what are facts and what are opinions."

READ: Parliament passes Bill to tackle online falsehoods after lengthy debate spread over two days

Mr Heng was speaking to Singapore media at the end of his five-day trip to Switzerland.

On Wednesday, Singapore's Parliament passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, a comprehensive piece of legislation to combat fake news.

Some have expressed fears that it could be used to clamp down on freedom of speech.

READ: Tech companies committed to working with Singapore to combat deliberate online falsehoods

But the Government has said Singapore is vulnerable to fake news because of its position as a global financial hub, its mixed ethnic and religious population, and widespread Internet access.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said during the second reading of the Bill that the law is also aimed at preventing the loss of trust in governments and institutions that has taken root in many Western societies.

That has led to a rising tide of populism and right-wing nationalism.

To counter that, Mr Heng said it's important to ensure the fruits of growth are shared in an equitable way with the people.

He said, "The one important lesson that we see in the more successful countries, including Switzerland, is the way in which there's been a strong focus on taking care of the welfare of workers. 

"In many of the companies I visited, including those which are highly automated, they make an effort to look at, to explore ways and means in which they could upgrade their workforce."

READ: Proposed law against online falsehoods will not curb academic research: Ong Ye Kung

Mr Heng's study trip of Switzerland saw him and his delegation visiting various research institutes and companies to study Swiss R&D and industry development efforts.

The Deputy Prime Minister said one reason why the Swiss have been successful is their ability to stay neutral, while connecting with people around the world.

Likewise, by being neutral and staying focused on the rule-based multilateral framework, Singapore has been able to make a contribution to global affairs, and build strong relationships around the world, he said.

Source: CNA/nh(hm)

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