With the mass proliferation of fake news online, the PAP has waded into the debate with its 2 cents worth. In a Parlimentary sitting to debate Budget 2017, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim announced the Broadcasting Act will be changed later this year to ensure overseas content is “in line” with Singapore’s community values and that content is reliable and accurate. Whatever those “community values” are, Minister Yaacob certainly cast an ambiguous and subjective term by which online content would be regulated.
With this latest announcement, it appears that our own government has bought into the “fake news” hysteria sweeping the Western world. Tackling the spread of fake news online to uphold truth and objectivity may sound like a noble cause, but it hides a far more sinister agenda.
For years, the PAP government has derided alternative media as a disruptive entity seeking to spread falsehoods and sow discord within the populace. This is contrasted with their constant trumpeting of the state backed mainstream media as the “standard bearer” of truth and integrity. Press freedom is demonized as a Western plot to undermine the government’s ability to lead. The iron fist of internet censorship is utilized under the guise of safeguarding social harmony.
With such an infantile approach to social discourse, I won’t be surprised if the PAP government starts targeting alternative media under the guise of combating fake news. I treat Yaccob Ibrahim’s latest announcement on amendments to the Broadcasting Act with cynical skepticism at best. We have seen how the definition of fake news has been grossly misconstrued to discredit contrasting opinions. US President Donald Trump has already exploited the fake news label to go after his most vocal critics. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election, the DNC presented the notion that the proliferation of anti Hillary fake news influenced the election in Donald Trump’s favour. Alternative news outlets were the first to be targeted in this political witch hunt. Even left wing websites that were critical of Hillary Clinton were lumped together with the likes of Breitbart and Infowars. Media giants like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and ABC News were conveniently left out.
I see a similar trend playing out in Singapore. Draconian measures by the Media Development Authority (MDA) such as the online licensing act disproportionately target alternative media, especially websites critical of the PAP government. The MDA, like a ravenous wolf waiting to devour its prey, eagerly monitors the webspace for any “infringement” they can capitalize to shut down dissent. In contrast, embarrassing lapses in the mainstream media are blatantly ignored. In 2015, socio-political website The Real Singapore was forced to shut down for perpetuating fake news targeted at foreigners in Singapore. But go to the Straits Times’ own portal, STOMP and you’ll find no shortage of voyeur journalism of the vilest form.
The government is not the least bit interested in tackling the proliferation of fake news. If they were, we would have seen our own ministers and MPs passionately chiding the mainstream media for their countless lapses. Rather, the changes to the broadcasting act will likely target websites with, pro opposition, anti-establishment, anti-PAP leanings. With the derogatory fake news label, they will seek to tar the alternative news community with the same broad brush. This has been the PAP government’s modus operandi for years. I doubt it’ll be any different in the forseeable future.