May 26, 2020 - Economy & Business

"Fake news" laws on the rise globally during the coronavirus pandemic

An illustration of a statue holding a sword and scale.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Legal measures arbitrarily targeting "fake news" are picking up global steam.

Driving the news: The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Puerto Rican journalists who fear that two recent "fake news" laws will be used to punish them for their reporting on the coronavirus crisis.

  • The Puerto Rico laws make it a crime for journalists to report information about emergencies that the government considers “fake news."
  • They technically only apply to “false information,” but ACLU argues that the broad-based definition will inevitably be used to suppress true information.

The big picture: The tactic of targeting the press under the guise of stopping "fake news" is increasingly becoming more normalized.

  • Hungary's government passed a law in March that gives the government power to punish those who spread "false information" about the pandemic with up to five years in prison.
  • The Philippines passed a law in March that says journalists may face jail sentences of up to two months for "spreading false information" about the virus and a fine of up to $20,000, per CNN.
  • Singapore last year passed a law last year which allows the government to force online platforms to remove or correct information that it believes is false.

The bottom line: These examples and several others show ways the press is being shut out by the governments globally under the guise of stopping pandemic misinformation.

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