The Malaysian Government tabled an ‘Anti-Fake News’ bill in parliament on Monday, March 26, ahead of general elections that are to be held in the country by August. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists; Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) criticized the bill and the heavy penalties.
According to reports, under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill anyone who publishes so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both. Under the bill, fakes news was defined as news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false and included features, visuals and audio recordings, and will cover digital publications and social media, would apply to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.
The NUJM questioned the need of the bill, with contentious news and social media posts already covered under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. However, the penalties under the new proposed legislation are significantly harsher than under the current laws.
NUJM is urging the Government to re-examine the Fake News Act in depth together with other relevant bodies before it is implemented so as to clearly define the application of the said Act.
The IFJ said: “The bill tabled by the Malaysian government over fake news is a blatant attempt by the government to increase control over the flow of information and public discussions in the lead up to the General Elections. The crackdown on press freedom and freedom of expression in Malaysia under Prime Minister Najib Razak has had dire consequences for the media.”
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