Singapore on Monday, 25 November, invoked its anti-fake news law for the first time, against Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Brad Bowyer, who was then asked to issue a clarification on a Facebook post shared on 13 November, The Straits Times reported.
The post originally claimed that investments in Amaravati city project in Andhra Pradesh have been doing poorly: “... we also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project, part of the $4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs (government linked companies) and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all (sic).”
In the post, Bowyer also mentioned Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel)‘s investment in Bharti Airtel.
The post read: “In my accountability speech at Hong Lim earlier in the year, I mentioned Indian Telco Bharti Airtel and questioned GIC investing in it at a time when Singtel was upping its stake as the company hit cash flow issues and rating agencies had reclassified it as junk. And of course, it recently got hit with a court ruling that it owes the Indian government over $17 billion in licence fees... Which financial media speculates could have a knock on effect of wiping four or five percent off Singtels share value (sic).”
In the Facebook post, Bowyer had also implied that the Singapore government is involved in investment decisions made by GIC and Temasek.
On being asked to issue a correction, Bowyer edited the post saying, “This post contains false statements of fact.” Further, he linked a fact-checked article published by Factually, Singapore’s state-run website, which mentioned, “The Facebook post by Mr Brad Bowyer contains false statements of fact and misleading statements.”
According to The Straits Times, responding to the Facebook post, the Ministry of Finance’s statement on Monday said that it “contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government.”
State Run Website Debunks Bowyer’s Claims
Regarding Bowyer’s assertions about the Amaravati project and that $4 billion have been poorly invested or “dumped in Andhra Pradesh” by government-linked companies, the Factually article said this is false.
On the claims made about Singtel and Bharti Airtel, the Factually article mentioned that the matter is for the two companies to address. “Mr Bowyer refers to Singtel’s investment in Bharti Airtel. Singtel’s shareholding today is valued at $13 billion, which is more than double its investment to date of $5.1 billion,” the article further read.
Terming the allegations made by Bowyer on government influencing investment decision as “false”, the Factually article read: “The Government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC. Which companies they invest in, or divest from, is entirely the responsibility of their respective management teams. The Government likewise does not interfere in the commercial decisions of Temasek’s and GIC’s portfolio companies.”
It further mentioned that the government ensures that Temasek and GIC have “competent boards,” which it holds responsible for their respective performances.
‘It Is Fair’: Bowyer on Issuing Correction
In another post, after issuing a correction, he said, “I have no problem in following that request as I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary.”
In May, Singapore had passed a law criminalising publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) bans falsehoods that are prejudicial to Singapore or likely to influence elections and requires service providers to remove such content or allows the government to block it. Offenders could face a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines.
‘Ludicrous’: Singaporeans React on Anti-Fake News Law
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, called the move “ludicrous.” He tool to Twitter and said, “POFMA already off to a bad start.” While others claimed that it is a “reminder of how the most powerful players can dominate the flow of information.”
(With inputs from The Straits Times)
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