Written by Bertrand Seah

What happened?

The Ministry of Home Affairs has tabled a new legislation called the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, which aims to give police increased enforcement powers during “serious incidents”. These incidents involve large-scale public disorder which “seriously threaten public safety”. The new bill will be replacing the existing Public Order (Preservation) Act, which comes all the way from pre-independence days in 1958.


Why is this significant?

An important impetus for this new bill, according to MHA, comes from the threat from terrorist attacks, and as such the proposed bill will allow the police to enforce a “communications stop order”. This allows the police to prohibit the sharing of information of all types – audio, video recordings and text messages are all included – with the press and the public during such incidents. Offenders will face a maximum punishment of a $20,000 fine and/or two years in jail.

In spite of this terrorist rationale, the actual scope of the legislation will be much broader. In addition to bombings, gun shootings and hijacking of public infrastructure, it also includes sit-down (i.e. peaceful) demonstrations where demonstrators occupy “publicly accessible paths”. How much would the public stand to gain from not being informed about such incidents in the press? And at a time when potential fake news legislation threatens to stifle the media environment, would this represent a further attack on Singapore press freedoms? Reporters Without Borders, the organisation with whom Singapore holds its infamous 151 out of 181 press freedom ranking, certainly thinks so.

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