Anti-Fake News Bill: a Hatchet against Dissent

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is gravely concerned with the introduction of the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 which threatens to further curtail freedom of expression and allow the government to establish ‘truths’ and reject legitimate news and criticism.

The Bill itself carries worrying provisions and unduly broad definition for fake news which is open to abuse by state authorities. On top of the harsh punishment of RM500,000 fine or 10-years imprisonment proposed by the Bill, the Bill also puts a burden on all other individuals and organization to take action on behest of the government or individual claiming ‘fake news’. Individuals and organizations who has provided financial assistance to a third party who is allegedly creating ‘fake news’ would also be subjected to a similarly harsh punishment of RM500,000 or 10-years imprisonment.

Social media which has been crucial to the dissemination of independent news and incident reports not covered by print media would also be threatened under this law with social media giants and news portal required to remove content or be subjected to substantial fines for non-compliance. The Bill will effectively be the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 for the Internet.

On top of the absurd provisions, the Bill was drafted with no transparent consultation with relevant stakeholders and civil society; no appropriate study to understand the issue of deliberate misinformation and spreading of false information; and was rushed to be tabled in Parliament in the final days of its seating for the term. This raises substantial question as to the moral authority of the Parliament to legislate on critical law with substantial human rights impact at this juncture.

The intent of the government in introducing this law is clear. The Sedition Act 1948, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the myriad of vague law under the Penal Code is no longer sufficient. The ruling party was rendered powerless to defend itself against legitimate criticism and news detrimental to its political survival and seek to have a new law with arbitrary reach to clamp down on freedom of expression with the guise of criminalizing ‘fake news’.

SUARAM strongly condemn and reject the Anti-Fake News Bill and call for the Bill to be scrapped immediately! #DroptheBill!

In Solidarity
Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director

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