The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods wanted to hear oral evidence from a representative of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF).
However on March 22, RSF released a statement on its website "doubting the sincerity" of the invitation. It said:
"RSF is among those invited but prefers not to take a position on a draft bill that no one has seen.
Inasmuch as Singapore already has some of the world’s most repressive legislation as regards the freedom to inform, RSF questions the need for a new law but is ready to offer its recommendations when it has seen an initial draft."
RSF has given Singapore a low ranking for press freedom in the past, and has been criticised by Singaporean politicians.
Head of Asia-Pacific desk
According to a press release issued by the Parliament of Singapore on March 27, the Committee decided on March 9 to invite RSF to Singapore to give oral evidence.
On March 13, the Parliament Secretariat wrote to Daniel Bastard, Head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, and asked him to give evidence on March 23.
Bastard replied that he was based in Paris and would not be able to appear in Singapore. The Secretariat then asked if RSF had an office in Singapore or Asia, from which it could send representatives.
RSF apparently has an East Asia office in Taipei, but its director was not available to travel to Singapore on March 23. Bastard asked if a Skype session was possible.
More days available
On March 14, the Secretariat offered Bastard the option of traveling to Singapore on any of the days set aside for public hearings:
- March 14, 15, 16
- March 22, 23
- March 27, 28, 29
They also offered to fund Bastard's travel costs.
Bastard replied that he was considering the sessions on March 27 to 29, but for "organisational reasons" he needed to get approval from his "hierarchy".
Sorry, can't make it
On March 20, Bastard said:
"Unfortunately I won't be able to come to Singapore this month, for organizational reasons. Since we are currently preparing our annual index, I need to be fully available at the office and the trip to Singapore will take too long."
The Secretariat then asked if Bastard or a RSF representative familiar with its publications on Singapore would be able to give evidence via video-conference at any time between March 20 to 29.
However, it said that as of March 27, "no further communication" has been received from RSF.
You can read the full statement from the Select Committee Chair at the end of the March 27 public hearing below:
1. Before we adjourn for the day I would like to place on the record the fact that this Committee had also unanimously decided to invite Reporters Without Borders (also known as Reporters Sans Frontieres or RSF) to give oral evidence at our public hearings.
2. RSF initially expressed interest in giving oral evidence, and proposed to attend this week’s hearings. However, it eventually cited “organisational reasons” and declined to attend. I note that it has subsequently issued a statement doubting the sincerity of our invitation.
3. I have asked our Parliament Secretariat to release a chronology of the correspondence with RSF.
4. For the record, our invitation to RSF still stands. Should RSF change its mind and decide to give oral evidence, they are welcome to write to us.
Top image via screen shot from Gov.sg.