Malaysia passes anti-fake news bill

An advertisement at a train station in Kuala Lumpur on March 26 reads 'Sharing a lie makes u a liar.' A draft bill to fight fake news in Malaysia proposes 10-year jail terms for sharing content authorities deem to be false. AFP
An advertisement at a train station in Kuala Lumpur on March 26 reads 'Sharing a lie makes u a liar.' A draft bill to fight fake news in Malaysia proposes 10-year jail terms for sharing content authorities deem to be false. AFP

Malaysia passes anti-fake news bill

by Hemananthani Sivanandam, Hanis Zainal, and Tarrence Tan

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - After days of contentious debates, Malaysia's lower house of Parliament passed a controversial anti-fake news bill on Monday.

The Bill passed during the committee stage with a simple voice vote. Two amendments replaced the word “knowingly” with “maliciously” in one of the clauses and reduced the punishment from up to 10 years in jail to six years.

This means that any person who “by any means, maliciously creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine, not exceeding RM500,000 (about $127,800) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years or to both”.

During the committee stage debates yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the bill was a form of deterrence and to give those who spread fake news a clear message that they can be punished for their actions.

She said people must be responsible in sharing only “real and genuine” news.

“This is also to show that the Government will not compromise on fake news that can undermine national security and public order,” she said in reply to points raised by Teo Nie Ching (DAP-Kulai).

Teo questioned the need to have new legislation when there is already the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588).

While she praised the Government’s move to replace the word “knowingly” with “maliciously”, Teo still felt the punishments under the Bill were too severe.

Azalina said the punishments provided under Act 588 were inadequate for today’s technological landscape.

“The types of offences we see now are what we call ‘fast and furious’ and bukan calang-calang (not to be taken lightly).

“Even a cartoon in France caused deaths. This is why the Government is serious about it,” she said, citing the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad that led to the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France in 2015.

To a question by N. Surendran (PKR-Padang Serai) on the definition of “fake news”, which he claimed was “inexistent”, Azalina said the meaning was taken from the Oxford Dictionary.

“The Attorney-General Chambers took the meaning from the dictionary. It means anything that is not genuine and claiming to be something that it is not,” she said, adding the word “fake” was used as an umbrella term to include partly false news as well.

To another point raised by Surendran on the extra-territorial application in the Bill, Azalina said it was necessary to protect Malaysians from anyone in the world.

“Those who spread fake news, regardless of their nationality, can be brought to Malaysia so they can undergo the due process of our courts,” said Azalina.

She said the Government was also looking into adding a similar clause into the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 to protect our children from predators.

Earlier, during the policy stage debates, a bloc voting was called by the Opposition that saw 123 voting for the Bill, with 64 against.

PKR’s Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen alleged in a Facebook posting that 10 PAS lawmakers supported the Bill during the bloc voting.

He also said former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (Indepen­dent-Bandar Tun Razak) voted for the Bill to be passed at the policy stage.

The Bill saw heated debates since last Thursday when it was tabled for second reading by Azalina.

It will now be presented to the Dewan Negara, the upper house of Parliament, to be debated.

Once passed, it will be sent to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the Royal Assent.

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