Malaysia, last week, passed the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, hailed as one of the most controversial laws in recent times. The Bill was tabled and fast-tracked in the Parliament as it received opposition due to fears of it being used to curb the freedom of Press. The King has also gazetted the Act, making it official.
The Prime Minister was quoted by Business Insider as saying, “I know that some journalists are worried that this new act will be used to restrict their freedom in reporting, But I would like to say that this is not the right view as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, through Section 8A, has already made it an offence to publish any fake news”,
The act focuses on, ”any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas”. It enforces a penalty of Malaysian Ringgit 500,000 (USD 170,000) or six years of imprisonment or both, for spreading misinformation or false news relating to Malaysia or its citizens.
Who defines the Truth?
Although at the outset seen as astringent and apt law needed against the growing menace of fake news, it fails to address as to who defines the truth. Also seen as a move to clamp down on dissent before the elections next month, detractors accuse the government of playing foul.
The 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal (1MDB) fraud, involving the Prime Minister, with $3.5 Billion misappropriations of funds, used for gambling trips, hotels, luxury properties and so on, since coming to light has caused severe embarrassment for the country. Some view the act as a move to silence critics.
According to The New York Times, Jailani Johari, the country’s Deputy Minister for Communications and Multimedia openly said that any information about 1MDB that has not been verified by the government and it “is deemed as fake news.”
The government in the last three years has reportedly managed to silence all voices of dissent from the opposition, writers, journalists alike by filing sedition and defamation against them. The previous Attorney General was also removed for being overly critical.
The Logical Indian take
Fake News has become a global menace, and even online third-party content providers are gearing up to tackle this as nations are increasingly holding them responsible. However, a hastily passed law without proper public scrutiny and accountability mechanisms will only serve the respective authoritarian regimes as they will get to decide on the ‘truth’.