Yesterday, Malaysia’s Dewan Negara (the Senate of Parliament) rejected the Anti Fake News (Abolition) Bill 2018, a decision which has been labelled a disappointment for Malaysia’s new Pakatan Harapan government. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists; Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) strongly criticise the vote, a failed opportunity for the government.
The Anti-Fake News act passed through parliament on April 2, put forward by the Barisan Nasional government in the lead up to the General Election in May. The newly elected Pakatan Harapan government promised to repeal the act, and on August 16, put forward the new Bill, which passed the House of Representatives. However on September 12, the Senate voted down the Bill to repeal the law by 7 votes.
The AFN Act contains broad definitions of what constituted “fake news” offenses and criminal penalties of up to six years in jail and fines for those involved in its dissemination. The law also gives authorities broad discretionary and censorship powers to penalise those distributing ‘fake’ news.
Given the disappointing outcome of yesterday’s vote, the IFJ said concerns still exist around officials’ ability to deploy other existing laws historically used to target activists, journalists and silence political dissent. These include section 500 of the Penal Code, the Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972, Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Film Censorship Act 2002.
The Pakatan Harapan government has promised to review existing laws and abolish those which undermine media rights and freedom of expression. It has also begun dropping significant cases brought under the country’s draconian sedition legislation, including the withdrawal of nine sedition charges against political cartoonist Zunar.
NUJM general secretary, Chin Sung Chew said: “We sincerely hope that the Pakatan Harapan government will bring up the same bill after one year in accordance with article 68.2(b) Federal Constitution. NUJ also gives support to the present government that this act must be repealed for the sake of press freedom while we agree that there are sufficient laws to deal with fake news. Therefore, we don't need new legislations. NUJ calls upon the bipartisan support for the repeal of Anti Fake News Act.”
The IFJ said: “This was an important opportunity for the new Malaysian Government to begin the process of reform for press freedom in Malaysia, and show the people that they were serious in their election promises. We stand with NUJM in calling on the government to ensure they follow through on media reform to guarantee and safe guard press freedom in Malaysia.”
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