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Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. Pic by NSTP/MOHD FADLI HAMZAH
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. Pic by NSTP/MOHD FADLI HAMZAH

THE Cabinet had on Wednesday passed the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018. The bill is expected to be tabled for its second reading in the Dewan Rakyat this week.

The following are remarks by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, on the legislation.

Q: Why did the government introduce this new legislation and what are the challenges, seeing that there are some existing laws to stem fake news?

A: The issue of dissemination of fake news is a global problem, following the technological communication revolution, which is happening at a rapid pace. Of late, Malaysia has faced numerous challenges as an effect from fake news which not only confuses the public but can also threaten the safety, economy, prosperity and well-being of the people and the country.

As such, a new approach, such as introducing a new bill, is critical. In fact, some other countries have already realised that fake news is a global threat to the world of information, and needs to be tackled swiftly and effectively. In Singapore, for example, a Select Committee On Deliberate Online Falsehoods: Causes, Consequences And Counter-Measures was set up to study the problem of fake news, types of offenders and their motive in disseminating fake news, as well as its effects. This includes the possibility of setting up new laws to combat fake news.

The Philippines has already drafted a bill to tackle fake news, which is the Anti-Fake News Bill 2017, which makes it an offence to offer, publish, distribute and spread fake news.

We have to understand that although there are relevant laws, but until today, the rapid and complex development of communications technology means the problem still cannot be managed effectively. What more, these laws, such as the Penal Code, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, were drafted during or before the 1990s, and could not address the nature of increasingly complex offences in line with rapid technological progress.

As such, new elements will be introduced in this bill. Among the proposals are to not restrict the offences to Malaysia, which demonstrates the government’s seriousness in addressing the issue of fake news spread by those outside Malaysia.

Apart from a clear definition or illustration of what constitutes fake news, the bill also provides for punishment for those who fund the dissemination of fake news, not removing fake news when required, and others. At the same time, the bill also creates temporary measures to stem fake news while investigation and prosecution is being done.

Q: Is the definition of ‘fake news’ in this bill of a general or specific nature?

A: In the proposed bill, the government has taken initiatives to provide a clear and specific definition of fake news, including illustrations on situations which demonstrate fake news. The bill defines fake news any news, information, data and report, either a part of or wholly false whether in an article, visual or audio recording or in any form that can visualise words or ideas. It has to be stressed that at this time, there are no laws directly related to fake news.

Q: In this context, who decides whether a piece of news or information is fake or otherwise?

A: In this matter, the government has decided to allow a neutral and fair party, which is the courts, to decide, which is by due process of law. The courts will have the power to rule on the disposal of any publication deemed to contain fake news.

Q: There are claims that this bill will curtail freedom of speech. What is the government’s view on this?

A: This is an unsubstantiated and politically-motivated claim. No laws formulated and passed in Parliament are meant to stem freedom of speech, as provided for under the Federal Constitution.

In addition, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the government has undertaken a legal transformation through the abolishment of the Internal Security Act 1960, introduced the Peaceful Asse

mbly Act 2012, which has helped the right to free speech.

The bill was drafted in accordance with the power of attorney as provided for in Paragraph (a) Clause 2, Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

The proposed bill is aimed at protecting the public from fake news and, at the same time, ensuring that their right to speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected.

Q: Will this bill provide for heavier penalties?

A: The bill is of a deterrent nature, to give a clear message that each individual should be responsible for the sharing of true and healthy information. Those found guilty of circulating fake news can be fined or jailed, or subjected to both penalties. In addition, the Court can also order those found guilty to make an open apology to the affected party.

At the same time, the bill will also give a clear message that the government will not compromise in the matter of dissemination of fake news that can undermine public order or national security, and will continue to ensure that national security is preserved.

Hence, heavier penalties are provided based on the degree of the offence, including the imposition of fines and jail sentences.

Q: Is the bill only to control the spread of fake news in social media?

A: The bill regulates the dissemination of fake news in any medium of publication and is not restricted to social media.

Q: Will this bill address the dissemination of fake news in its entirety?

A: This bill expresses the government’s commitment to address the dissemination of fake news due to the rapid and intensive growth of communication technology.

In this regard, the bill will complement the existing provisions of the law. At the same time, the scope of this bill is extensive and exclusive to address offences pertaining to fake news thoroughly and effectively.

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