SINGAPORE (May 13): On May 8, at 10.20pm, after the longest Parliament sitting in Singapore to debate legislation, the city state passed a law that gives portfolio ministers — part of the group of political office holders in Singapore — the power to decide what amounts to news that is false and against the public interest, and order that it be either corrected or taken down.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, widely referred to by its acronym Pofma, carries penalties for those who refuse to comply with the minister’s order — of up to $1 million for companies and up to $20,000 for individuals, with the possibility of a maximum of a year’s jail. Those who disagree with the minister’s decision can appeal to him or her and, if the appeal is rejected, can ask for the case to be heard by a High Court judge.
The law had generated vigorous debate inside and outside the House. Over two days, Members of Parliament raised concerns over what constituted a falsehood, versus an opinion; whether having the judiciary as the final arbiter was a good enough check on the executive; and what would happen if there was a “rogue” government in the future.