Despite varying socio-political climates, Southeast Asian countries are facing the same concern: the virulence of fake news.
Members of the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition-Southeast Asia (AFEC-SEA) on Friday gathered for a Regional Fake News Conference in Dusit Thani Manila in Makati City to discuss the effects of fake news and propaganda in their countries.
Myanmar experts said fake news in their country has repeatedly fueled crisis, while Indonesian delegates reported an annual increase in cases of defamation and hate speech there.
"Most of us are from the same region, so we share the same concern and I think it's time for us to know that it's us who can work for it," said one of the Cambodian delegates during the forum.
While governments in Southeast Asia, including that of the Philippines, are mulling the creation of an anti-fake news law, AFEC-SEA members said this would go against the right to freedom of expression.
Singapore-based lawyer and rights defender Remy Choo said the fake news situation in Southeast Asia varies from that in the United States and Europe, so implementing laws can be challenging.
"In a lot of our countries, there is a lot of asymmetry. The government has a lot more power than citizens do. Laws do not look like what they do in the United States or Europe," he said.
"When we talk about fake news laws...we must see that against the backdrop of a lot of different types of checks and balances in place. In Asia, a lot of these checks and balances, the free flow of information, a lot of us don't have it in our countries," he added.
However, he also maintained that there is no need for new laws, but rather the implementation of already existing laws.
"The government doesn't even need a fake news law, because there are so many different laws that can be used, as friends from the panels have shown," he said.
In the Philippines, a bill has been filed in the Senate seeking to penalize any person or entity who maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread false news or information in print, broadcast or online media.
But the AFEC-SEA said the bill would clash with the right to freedom of expression.
"Criminalization of speech is incompatible with the right to Freedom of Expression," said AFEC-SEA chairperson Gilbert Andres.
AFEC-SEA and human rights advocacy group Centerlaw has sent their position paper to the office of Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on mass media, pointing out the "defects" of the proposed bill.
"If they got our message correctly, they should not even just pass it, they should just totally ignore it," Andres said. — BAP, GMA News