Free Speech, Trust in Institutions and the Proof of Fake News in Singapore

In 2019, Singapore joined a growing number of countries in passing laws to regulate online falsehoods, or “fake news”. The law, stated to uphold the public’s “trust in institutions”, empowers ministers to issue correction orders against statements they deem false, which may be appealed to the courts. But since Singapore’s official records are rarely open access, a question arises: who bears the burden of proof in appeals? In two such appeals, Singapore’s courts reached conflicting conclusions on the issue, reflecting two theories of free speech and public trust arising from parliamentary and public discourses. First, speech to determine technical “truths”, with public trust being a prerequisite for orderly discussion. Second, speech to uphold democratic accountability, with public trust being a product of political dialogue. This paper explores competing legal and political narratives of speech and trust in Singapore, and suggests how courts may reconcile them in fake news litigation.