A ministry of truth stalks us all

APRIL 16 — They say a lie once it has a head start, it’s impossible to catch up to.

Let’s earnestly hope it’s no more than three hours, because that’s how much time the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia’s (MCM) Quick Response Team needs to nullify falsehoods.

Thirty minutes to a maximum ceiling of three hours to correct misinformation seemingly bent to wrack havoc in our society.

Fact-check appears to have a new ally in a time of Covid-19.

All cool, on the face of it.

In fact, this column has asked for more restraint among those used to being liberal with what they share online. It recognises the dangers of lies.

But be careful our fixations are not about who spouts it and who’s at the receiving end rather than the truth or the lie about it.

Thus, the concern.

Hey, I’m completely sold on the truth will set you free. I’d buy the T-shirt. Honest. But in the era of post-truth and “forward only” messages, we must rely more on independent actors rather than the executive to rectify any situation where it has vested interests.

To be fair, even with my preference we will still live in a world where the majority of distributed information is made up.

To be fairer, because generations are being born in a media era, their willingness to be sceptical is much higher too, to lies and truths.

The bullshit will fill the landscape, but the population is built to question the landscape let alone the bullshit on it.

Today, I was told to by an unattributed video that Italy was struck hard by the pandemic because they wear shoes in their homes, which is why removing shoes when entering homes can reduce Covid-19 transmission. 

Which does not explain why it’s lower in Germany, maybe because they tie their shoelaces tighter over there, therefore denying the virus escape? Or that it’s growing in Indonesia because they’ve become too Westernised?

And if Asians start to chuck the shoes over electric cables, is the virus about to die?

But that’s what you get online. However, is an executive controlled agency the answer?

The discussion grows salient with the new development.

In case you’ve missed it, a former deputy minister had her statement recorded over an alleged inaccurate video post on her social media page. Fuziah Salleh wants the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to investigate how her photos were leaked to the public when she met the police rather than be circumspect about her error.

Incidentally, the Kuantan MP’s seat borders Indera Mahkota, served by MCM boss Saifuddin Abdullah.  And by extension, the boss of MCMC too.

More so, their fates cross — up to seven weeks ago — they were both in PKR, where Fuziah heads the state chapter. They probably have two very opposed versions of the recent past, where one remains a minister with a different portfolio and new party, and the other relegated from government and settled into present infamy.

But what presses today is her Facebook page allegedly misrepresenting events at the Johor Baru Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex.

The resultant voluntary removal of the video and apology is more than a smoking gun, but the background of the minister in charge allows for Fuziah’s supporters to claim a hatchet job by a bitter political opponent.

If Fuziah were to be chastised by a third party unanswerable to the minister, the admonishments would bite more.

The objectivity is established by independence. The United States has an independent Federal Communications Commission, and our MCMC should have its independence too. In a digital age, the policing of cyberspace will determine the health of our democracy.

The failure of the previous Pakatan Harapan government to institute a separation of commission from ministry should not hold this new government back from broaching new grounds, even if it’s to the coalition’s own detriment. For the measure benefits Malaysians.

An independent commission receives taxpayer funding, as it should, and fights in the taxpayer’s corner but without the executive’s noose around it.

The independence is vital because the overzealous may cut into opinions.

And a vibrant democracy cherishes opinions even as much as truths.

Opinions have to be recognised as such and offered the space to stand even if critical to the powerful.

While the Quick Response Team and MCM run Sebenarnya.my website seek to undo harms, they may also risk attacking opinions for lacking substantiation. To put the onus on content providers to prove their opinions.

After all, Fuziah’s team backed down and owned up, so why the street chase except to humiliate her. Is getting her on her knees part of protecting the masses or upholding the truth?

There’s a country nearby which used prosecution of opinions to choke off the opposition.

Amnesty International and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada felt in 2012 regarding the treatment of the late JB Jeyaretnam "the Singaporean government may be using libel laws in a manner that amounts to a violation of the fundamental rights to freely hold and peacefully express one’s opinions."

It could be the new normal here under a careful government afraid to cut short its stay.

Is this paranoia? Better early alarms than a late response. It’s a time where national interest seems to be a basis for any suspension of democratic rights.

Be careful it’s not opinions killed in order to bring order and peace for the powerful.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles