KUALA LUMPUR: The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 is now in effect after it was gazetted today.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the Act, which was passed by the Dewan Rakyat earlier this month, was gazetted after receiving consent from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V.

The Prime Minister said Parliament’s passing of the new law showed that the government was serious about combating the problem of fake news amid the development of modern technology that enabled speedy communications.

He brushed aside fears that the new Act would be used to restrict freedom in news reporting.

Pointing out that the new law was meant to complement existing laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Najib said the Act was timely due to the modern concept that anyone could become an online journalist and this had become a trend with the advancement of information technology and the internet.

He said this posed danger to the fabric and safety of society as such reporters do not have formal training and could just write and spread news based on perception and personal understanding without seeking verification.

“Although there are existing legal provisions, the problems to curb the dissemination of fake news cannot be controlled effectively and comprehensively, following the current development in the information technology which was more rapid and complex,” he said.

Najib said the Act was of public interest as it would protect the people from the dissemination of fake news.

He said there was also an element of deterrence where every individual must be responsible for the sharing of correct and valid information.

It was reported that those who maliciously create, publish or distribute fake news would be liable to maximum RM500,000 fine, six years jail or both.

Speaking at the launch of the National Journalists’ Day (Hawana) here, Najib said the Act would also not compromise on the dissemination of news that could jeopardise public peace or national security.

Addressing about 1,000 media practitioners, the prime minister pointed out that the government always provided space for the freedom of speech and had implemented media freedom through various transformations.

He said these included the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960, introducing the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, besides transformation of the media by abolishing the printing licence and publishing permit.

"This is clearly different from the freedom of speech track record during the era of the current opposition premier leader, who previously had administered the nation for 22 years,” he said.

Citing ‘Operasi Lalang’ or ‘Ops Lalang’ in 1987, he said the operation saw more than 100 people being detained without trial under the ISA, and three newspapers at that time - The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan had their permits suspended.

“And today, they (The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh) are now sitting at the same table as me,” he said to laughter from those present.

"The leader who had ruled for 22 years was also criticised by the Committee to Protect Journalists at the international level as one of the 10 enemies of the press, for three years consecutively in 1999, 2000 and 2001," he said.

Najib also reminded journalists that in light of the proliferation of fake news on social media globally, the freedom of speech and media must be based on three principles.

“Firstly, one must be responsible and not just spread news where its source is unknown especially in light of the emergence of social media.

“Secondly, one must (report) based on truth where the truthfulness of its content and origin is ascertained fully.

“Thirdly, media practice and ethics must take into account local conditions and sensitivities rather than that of the West,” he said.

He said as a result, the government welcomes the journalists’ decla

ration - made by Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) general manager Datuk Zulkefli Salleh - that they would fight fake news.

He pointed out that allegations during the 13th General Election - such as 40,000 Bangladeshis were brought into Malaysia to be phantom voters - highlighted the importance of curbing fake news in light of the coming 14th General Election.

Najib also announced that National Journalist’s Day would be celebrated every May 29 beginning next year.

Also present at the event were Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak, the ministry’s Secretary-General Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Zarah Syed Ahmad, Chairman of the National News Agency (Bernama) Datuk Seri Azman Ujang.

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Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said at the launch of the National Journalists’ Day (Hawana), he brushed aside the fear of a group of journalists that the new act purportedly would be used to restrict their freedom in news reporting. (BERNAMA photo)