KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — The federal government today issued a seven-point frequently asked questions (FAQ) on its proposal for a new Anti-Fake News Act that will punish those who create or publish “fake news” about Malaysia or Malaysians.
Why this law?
In the FAQ, Putrajaya justified the need for this new law, asserting that existing Malaysian laws are incapable of effectively controlling the problem of “fake news”.
“Furthermore, the laws that are frequently cited in this matter such as the Penal Code, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 that were drafted on or before the 1990s cannot deal with the type of complex offences in line with the latest technological developments,” said the FAQ issued by the de facto law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman’s office.
It also said this proposed law will feature new elements such as “extra-territorial application”, which treats anyone of any nationality who had committed a fake news-related offence abroad as having committed it in Malaysia.
This was done with the purpose of showing the government’s seriousness in dealing with fake news by anyone outside of Malaysia, it said.
It also highlighted the proposed law’s provision for the offences of providing financial aid for the spread of fake news or for the failure to remove a published fake news, as well as the introduction of interim measures that will block the spreading of fake news during investigation and prosecution for a case.
Earlier in the FAQ, it noted that Malaysia recently is always faced with various challenges owing to the spread of fake news that “confuse the public” and are capable of “threatening the security, economy, prosperity and wellbeing of the public and country”, stressing that a new approach through the introduction of this law is critical.
A vague or clear definition?
The FAQ said the government has “taken the initiative to give a clear and specific definition” of “fake news” in the proposed law together with several illustrations of situations of the spreading of fake news.
“It has to be stressed that for now, there are no laws relating to the spreading of fake news that gives a specific definition of ‘fake news’,” it said.
“Fake news” is defined in the proposed law as including any wholly or partly false news, information, data and reports, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.
Who decides what is ‘fake news’?
According to the FAQ, the government has decided that a “neutral and just” party—the courts—will decide if an information or news is fake by due process of law, with the courts also empowered to make orders to remove the publication of any fake news.
Freedom of speech?
In response to allegations that the proposed anti-fake news law is intended to restrict free speech, the FAQ responded by calling it a baseless accusation that is politically-motivated.
“None of the laws that are drafted and passed by Parliament are intended to restrict the right to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the Federal Constitution,” it said, citing the federal government’s various “legal transformation” to facilitate free speech such as the abolition of the Internal Security Act 1960 and the introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.
“This proposed Bill is intended to protect the public from the wave of fake news and at the same time ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” the FAQ said.
“This Bill has elements of deterrence to give a clear message that each individual has to be responsible in sharing of true and healthy information,” the FAQ said, noting that those spreading fake news can be fined or jailed or sentenced to both and even ordered by the court to apologise to the affected party.
With the Bill intended to send the message that the government will not compromise against the spreading of fake news that can threaten public peace or national security, the FAQ said that heavier penalties have been provided for based on the degree of the offence committed.
In the Bill sighted by Malay Mail, the maximum penalties depending on the type of offences can go up to RM100,000 fine, or up to RM500,000 fine or 10 years’ imprisonment or both.
Is this only for social media?
This proposed law is to control and monitor the spread of fake news in any medium and is not limited to social media only, the FAQ said.
Will this law deal with fake news totally?
The FAQ said the proposed new law realises the government’s commitment to deal with the act of making fake news viral in light of the revolutions in communications technology that is fast developing, and will complement existing laws.
“At the same time, the scope of this Bill is broad and exclusive for dealing with offences relating to fake news comprehensively and effectively,” it said.