On April 11, the National Security Council briefed the police and Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to take ‘stern action’ against online media that misreport the news. Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the defence minister said, “We have been reading a lot of news in online media portals that publish incorrect and untrue news, especially when it comes to official statements from the government.” Ismail said, adding he hoped that online media would be more ‘ethical’ in their coverage.
The statement from the defence minister follows a tweet posted by the Information Department defining ‘fake news’ as news that “instils hatred towards the ruling government and leaders”, linking the dangers of fake news to Covid-19. In the infographic, the Information Department said that such news could cause “distrust in the ruling government.”
The post contained other definitions of misinformation, such as news covering the country’s critical information systems, news that touches on religious and racial sensitivities and news that ‘lowers the reputation of an individual, organisation and country’.
According to the National Union of Journalists (Malaysia), in the past authorities have used the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to arbitrarily control press freedoms. The last amendment to the PPPA was made in 2012, removing, the home minister’s “absolute discretion” to suspend newspaper’s ability to publish, allowing the decision to be reviewed by a court.
Malaysia has 4,987 positive Covid-19 cases with 82 deaths as of Tuesday, April 14. The country has extended its partial lockdown for the second time until April 28. Any person who breaches the restricted movement order will face immediate arrest.
The IFJ said: “The governments ‘stern action’ will hinder the media’s oversite of the government and decrease transparency, ultimately endangering society amid the global pandemic. The IFJ urges the government to review the directive to emphasise the importance of press freedom, accurate reporting and the public’s right to know.”