Source: The Star Online
By Syahredzan Johan
SO the Government intends to introduce a new legislation to tackle what is termed as “fake news”. A special task force has been set up to look into this new legislation to curb this and the Government hopes to table the Bill at the current Parliament sitting.
In the age of social media and high-speed Internet, information is shared instantly. Sharing and receiving information has become second nature, the result of which is we do not verify information we receive before we pass it on. As a result, information that is false or inaccurate becomes viral and is assumed as the truth.
It cannot be denied that the spread of false information is increasingly becoming an issue in our society – and we need to find ways to tackle it.
However, we do not need a new law to curb fake news as we have enough laws to deal with false information.
For print media, the Printing Presses and Publications Act provides for the offence of publishing false news. The printer, publisher, editor and the writer of such news if maliciously published would be liable to imprisonment up to three years or to a fine not exceeding RM20,000 or both.
For online media, Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act makes it an offence to use network services to send communications that is false with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person. If found guilty, the person may be fined up to RM50,000 or imprisoned for up to one year.
Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act is not limited to online media and is wide enough to cover those who spread false information through social media.
The laws that we have are sufficient and adequate to take action against those who publish and share fake news.
There is also the concern that the proposed anti-fake news legislation will be used on dissenting and Opposition voices.
Critics argue that laws which restrict freedom of speech and expression have frequently been used on dissidents before this. The fear is that the new proposed legislation will also be abused in the same way.
Indeed, if “fake news” is defined widely and imprecisely, there is every possibility that the implementation of the law will become arbitrary and selective.
It is important for us to constantly be aware and critical of new laws or changes to the laws that affect our fundamental freedoms. We already have enough laws that restrict our liberties and we do not need more laws of the same ilk.
At the end of the day, the law is not the panacea to all our problems. The most effective way to deal with fake news is not through legislation and penal sanctions, but through education and awareness.
Syahredzan Johan is a young lawyer and partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur.