Singapore PM defends ‘fake news’ law after storm of criticism

Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that fake news was a ‘serious problem.’ (Reuters)
Updated 09 April 2019

Singapore PM defends ‘fake news’ law after storm of criticism

  • Singapore last week unveiled tough measures to fight fake news
  • Rights groups warn Singapore’s proposed fake news laws could be used to stifle online discussion

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Singapore’s leader insisted Tuesday his government’s proposed fake news laws were a “step forward” in fighting online falsehoods after they sparked criticism from press freedom groups and tech giants.
But his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad, who has long had a prickly relationship with the neighboring city-state, told a joint press conference he was worried that governments could abuse such laws.
Singapore — widely criticized for restricting free speech and clamping down on political rights — last week unveiled tough measures to fight fake news.
These included powers for ministers to order sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter to put warnings next to posts authorities deem false, and in extreme cases get them removed, as well as fines and jail terms in serious cases.
Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that fake news was a “serious problem” and other countries including France, Germany and Australia were legislating to combat it.
Singapore’s proposed laws “will be a significant step forward,” he added. “We’ve deliberated on this now for almost two years ... What we have done has worked for Singapore, it is our objective to continue to do things which will work for Singapore.”
Rights groups warn Singapore’s proposed fake news laws could be used to stifle online discussion, are too vague and may be used to target government critics, while Facebook and other tech giants have expressed concerns.
But Mahathir, speaking alongside Lee at a press conference, noted that his government planned to repeal a widely criticized Malaysian law aimed at combating fake news.
“When we have a law that prevents people from airing their views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law,” he told reporters in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
Mahathir’s administration is pushing to repeal the legislation, which was pushed through parliament by the previous, corruption-plagued regime, but efforts have stalled after the opposition-controlled upper house refused to back its abolition.


Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Updated 30 November 2020

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

  • Founder of Unitas Communications says Kingdom has ‘set a precedent’ in its handling of both events

LONDON: According to one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, Muddassar Ahmed, Saudi Arabia has “not only done an admirable job but has set a precedent for other nations to follow” with regard to its handling of Hajj amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Hajj pilgrimage during the pandemic was a brave one, all the more so because it is a religious occasion that hundreds of thousands of people spend their lives preparing for,” Ahmed, the founder of Unitas Communications, told Arab News.

“To tell people making a once-in-a-lifetime journey that their plans must be put on hold cannot have been easy. But it was without a doubt the right thing to do. In our religion, the protection and preservation of life are of paramount value,” he added.

Ahmed, one of the UK’s top 1000 most influential people, also praised the Kingdom’s handling of the G20 summit last month after deciding to go fully virtual, calling it “absolutely the correct course of action.”

“In both instances, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for other countries to follow. We can contrast its proactive, forward-thinking and compassionate approach, as well as its own COVID-19 statistics, with other countries’ track records,” he said.

Countering extremism as a British Muslim

Ahmed is not only known for his role as a communications expert, but also as a leading figure in the Muslim community in the UK, countering hate speech and the rise of extremism as an advisor to the British government on anti-Muslim hatred.

“As a born-and-bred British Muslim, this is not just important to me on a policy level but on a deeply personal level. I have dedicated my life to improving relationships between Muslim and other communities and I believe that, through Unitas and other projects I have dedicated myself to, we have made tremendous progress in improving the image and position of Muslims in Britain and the West,” Ahmed, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims worldwide three times, said.

Before founding Unitas, Ahmed was an activist campaigning against the Iraq war and founder/host of East London’s Radio Ramadan shows.

“I soon realized that adversarial campaigning only went so far. I was concerned by the growing divide between Muslims and wider society, between the Islamic world and the West, and I wanted — I needed — to help heal these divides, to bridge these allegedly irreconcilable narratives,” he explained.

Soon after, he teamed up with fellow East Londoner and childhood classmate Shiraz Ahmad to give birth to the world’s first public relations agency dedicated to bridging the gap between the Islamic and Western worlds: Unitas Communications.

One of the group’s first clients was the National Health Service, which needed to access hard-to-reach minority communities in East London.

It was not long before their work earned the attention of people invested in efforts to do the same. A few years after the start of the Iraq War and after the 7/7 2005 London terrorist attacks, community cohesion in the UK was at an all-time low.

The UN’s Alliance of Civilizations then reached out to Unitas to “see minority and Muslim communities have the training and develop the skills necessary to engage effectively and constructively in wider British society.”

Ahmed and Unitas’s work is not restricted to the UK alone, with the group and its founder earning praise and recognition from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the City of New York.

Brexit and what is to come

While many businesses have been critical of Brexit and its potential consequences, Ahmed looks to the bright side of matters and instead calls it “an opportunity for Britain to reset its narrative on the world stage.”

“I have every confidence in the ability of the British nation to reinvent itself,” he added, explaining that “Unitas operations extend across continents in order to connect people, cultures and ideas and to make communicating effective and impactful.”

With regard to what the future holds for Unitas in such uncertain times, Ahmed remains optimistic.

“The future will see Unitas continuing to work with leading international brands and expanding its presence across Europe and the Middle East and deeper into Southeast Asia. But I should also say that a major priority for us has always been the US. We’ve had major American clients, like the National Football League and the US State Department,” he said.

“We will continue to choose clients who contribute to making the world a more understanding place, and we will engage those relationships to improve the world, to leave things better off than where they were when we started.

Because this work isn’t just a business to me or my team. It’s a moral calling.”