According to news reports, Minister for Communication and Information (MCI) Yaacob Ibrahim has announced during the Committee of Supply Debate on Monday (6 March 2017) that the Government is currently looking to amend the Broadcasting Act (BA) to address misinformation.
He alluded that amendments to the BA were necessary because Singaporeans now have far greater access to media content that is above and beyond the offerings of Mediacorp and existing subscription TV operators.
Given that Mediacorp has the reputation of being Government friendly while existing subscription TV operators already have to adhere to regulations, Is Dr Ibrahim implying that the regulations need to be put in place to ensure that such other sources of content have to been deemed kosher by the Government before Singaporeans should be permitted to freely access their contents?
If so, does it not fly in the face of PM Lee’s interview with HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur where PM Lee implies that our Internet is relatively free given that we have one of the fastest connections in the world?
I understand the Minister’s concern with “fake news” but isn’t the best way to counter fake news greater engagement on the part of the Government? When engagement is lacking, people will tend to make up rumours and speculate which in turn leads to the danger of fake or inaccurate news.
By engagement, I don’t just mean engagement with the state run media but with the online alternative media outlets too. This will go a long way to build the Government’s reputation of transparency and continued accountability. Will regulating news content alone lead to the eradication of the threat of fake news if the underlying issue of open engagement is not resolved?
Dr Yaacob stressed that the Government needed to ensure that media content had to be in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony. But, what constitutes community values?
Without defining the ambit of community values, the Government risks coming across as spearheading repression under the guise of “community values”?
Besides, doesn’t this again contradict PM Lee’s interview on HARDtalk where he says that it is not his role to interfere with the values of Singaporeans when asked about the repeal of Section 377A?
Who decides what the “community values” are? If the Government is saying that it needs to screen what it considers acceptable in relation to “community values”, then isn’t that influencing the values of Singaporeans which the PM has said the Government does not do?
I understand the Government’s concern with inaccurate and fake news. However, is the way to deal with it further legislation?
I think greater engagement with all media outlets is the more constructive way forward.
* Article first appeared on The Online Citizen.