December 31, 2019 / 6:33 AM / in 2 months

Singapore diplomat defends 'fake news' law in Hong Kong paper

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore diplomat defended the Asian city-state’s controversial law against “fake news” in a letter published on Tuesday in the South China Morning Post, saying the Hong Kong newspaper reported untrue accusations about the measure.

The remarks follow comments by Singapore’s envoys in letters to Britain’s Economist magazine and the Washington Post newspaper that the law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), does not curb free speech.

The law empowers ministers to ask online media platforms and users to carry corrections or remove content the government deems false.

In Tuesday’s letter, Foo Teow Lee, Singapore’s consul-general in Hong Kong, said the South China Morning Post reported “untrue” accusations regarding how the city-state was wielding the law.

“In every case where we have issued correction notices to online posts, we have detailed the falsehoods as well as the public interest involved.”

The three-month-old law has been used four times since Nov. 25, with three figures linked to the opposition and an opposition party being told their online posts must carry a banner stating they contain false information.

In one case, Facebook Inc issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the government’s request, after the user refused to do so.

Rights groups fear the law may curb free speech, and opposition politicians say it could give the government too much power as elections loom.

Singapore’s next general elections must be held by early 2021, but the government is widely expected to call for a vote within the next few months.

“We have not restricted free debate,” Foo said, adding that none of the statements that triggered action under the law had been removed.

“Surely, giving readers more information, and enabling them to decide for themselves where the truth lies, can only enhance public debate.”

The SCMP did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Reuters.

Singapore’s government says the financial hub is vulnerable to misleading and inaccurate news because of social sensitivities arising from its mixed ethnic and religious population, and widespread internet access.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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