Malaysia repeals anti-fake news bill, says 'sufficient' laws exist to tackle issue

The Malaysian government has repealed the Anti-Fake News 2018 Bill, which was introduced by former Prime Minister Najib Razak and passed in April this year.

According to Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department, there are "sufficient" and existing laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to tackle fake news in Malaysia. As such, new legislations are not required, The Star reported.

In a statement to A+M, Stanley Clement, managing director, Reprise described this as a "move in the right direction" as the issue needs to be thought through more deeply, given that there are many conversations currently occurring in the digital space.

While there are base laws in place to tackle the issue of fake news, Clement said there is a need to evaluate issues that could potentially fall in a grey area when it comes to fake news. "These issues need to be discussed in more detail to see how we can tackle them," he said.

He is also of the belief that it is not solely the government's responsibility to set and implement laws. Users and members of the community also need to be aware that fake news is easily shared without checking on the content or context. Additionally, it is crucial for publishers to be on the "right path" when using relevant channels.

Agreeing with Clement is Vajirudeen Ali, managing director, Content Nation, who said that repealing this "unnecessary act" is the right move, as long as it has been done with the right intention of removing laws and acts that prosecute individuals for political motives.

"At the time of passing this bill was perceived as a politically motivated move to control social chatter. It was rushed through parliament without much consideration given to public opinion, whilst also being vague in nature," he explained.

While current laws governing media should be sufficient to tackle this issue in the long run, Ali still believes that no country in the world is prepared to overcome the issue. This is because fake news is a recent phenomenon that has gained traction due to the widespread use of digital and social media. He added:

Nonetheless, a certain level of media freedom for opinions should be practiced.

Members of the public need to be educated on verifying news before spreading it. "A clear distinction between what is news and what is opinion is a natural progress that the people need to be educated on," he added.

Similar to Ali, Karan Tyagi, general manager of Carat Malaysia believes that self-regulation and a conscious effort to review the authenticity of news content is also essential in controlling fake news from trending.

Nonetheless, he said it is "almost impossible" to completely stem out fake news and there is no panacea to the fake news scourge.

"As fake news has implications on various parties, from consumers, media brands to governments, it is important then to have a collective effort in addressing this issue," Tyagi said.

He added that in this respect, some elementary measures are being implemented to curb the proliferation of fake news. For example, Facebook and a host of tech companies renewed their vows to combat fake news, through the use of machine learning technology, as well as collaborating with 25 third-party fact-checking partners across 14 countries.

YouTube followed suit weeks later, pledging USD25 million to support legitimate news organisations while launching new features on the site to flag misinformation and highlight authoritative news sources. Google News has also come under the spotlight, launching an AI to select stories and stop the spread of fake news.

Meanwhile, Ashvin Anamalai, chief strategist, Be Strategic said the fake news bill comes across as "repressive" and a "failed attempt" to silence criticism and curb free speech. He believes it is important for members of the public to have a healthy media environment that allows for free debate and freedom to all information regarding any issue.

Anamalai pointed out that the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 has also been used to address the issue of fake news in the past. Nonetheless, social networks should be responsible for some form of media regulation, such as mandatory information registration for political advertising during electoral seasons. This is equivalent to how journalists have a responsibility in citing information sources, Anamalai said.

"I believe it is the responsibility of the media, not the government, to provide a transparent market of idea. However, an ombudsman or commission to investigate complains would be something worth considering," he added.

The Anti-Fake News 2018 Bill indicated a jail term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to RM500,000 for those found guilty of publishing or disseminating fake news. Offenders also faced the possibility of being awarded both punishments. Meanwhile, an additional fine not exceeding RM3,000 was to be imposed for each day the offence continued following the conviction. Under the bill, individuals outside Malaysia, including foreigners, would also be prosecuted.

Former Prime Minister Najib's administration had said then that the bill was a move to "safeguard the public" against the spared of fake news, while maintaining the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution. It defined fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false”. These included audio recordings, features and visuals.

Additionally, former Communications and Multimedia minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak also previously cited WhatsApp (84%) as the top source of fake news among Malaysians, followed by Facebook (8%), blogs and other sources (4%).

(Read also: MY government’s crackdown on fake news: A much needed initiative)

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)