Fake news law ‘will curb media freedom’

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Source: The Malaysian Insight

MALAYSIA’S proposed fake news law will be used to target non-mainstream media outlets that publish reports not in line with Putrajaya’s views, a lawyer and media groups fear.

Lawyer H.R. Dipendra said the government was using the excuse of fake news to go after Internet news portals that are not governed by the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

“The government wants to target alternative media, like news portals. It is their intention of controlling news portals under the guise of (a) fake news (law).

“It is real news, but it is not always siding or agreeing with the government, (and) that they want to control (it),” he told The Malaysian Insight today.

Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the government was considering new laws to curb fake news, which he said was a threat to political stability and public order.

special task force was formed last month to study the new legislation.

Dipendra said introducing a law to govern fake news will further limit Malaysia’s freedom of speech.

“Malaysia does not need a fake news law. This is something to curb freedom of speech.”  

He added that news organisations and public commentators would be afraid of repercussions, like fines and jail sentences, if the law is enacted.

Current laws that govern sensitive matters, like race or religion, and defamatory statements are sufficient, the lawyer said.

Instead of going after news organisations, Dipendra suggests that Putrajaya strike a deal with Internet giants Google and Facebook to curb the spread of fake news.

He said the two organisations are the biggest players in propagating fake news they used algorithms to display content that is tailored to a person’s preferences.

“If the government is really brave, they should start with Google and Facebook. There are algorithms in place that target certain type of news to certain people,” Dipendra said.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said such a law would be a threat to journalism in Malaysia.

“In the current context, with very little assurance that this law is not to restrict journalistic content, any outlet could come under threat.

“Malaysia has several laws that are broadly defined and subject to abuse,” CIJ director Jac Kee said in a statement.

She also said instead of introducing a fake news law, the government should educate the people to identify fraudulent reports.

“We do need to counter misinformation, and this is done by strengthening critical media literacy among readers/Malaysians.

“And we also need to strengthen the code and practice of ethics by journolists – regardless of media or platforms,”   Kee said.

Journalist group Geramm urged the government to consider media practitioners’ input on the new law.

“Geramm believes there has yet to be enough engagement with the media fraternity on what exactly does the law entails, and its impact or influence to our work as journalists,” the group said in a statement.

It also raised questions on how fake news would be defined and if the law could be misused.

“Geramm believes that giving the authority to bodies that derive its power from politics is dangerous as it would be very hard to maintain accountability.”

Najib had said the cabinet was considering a new law to combat “fake news”, to be presented in the next parliamentary sitting, which is due to start on March 5.

However, groups like Lawyers for Liberty are concerned that the new law might stifle freedom of speech and be used to ban reports critical of the government.

The Malaysian Bar, which represents 16,000 lawyers in the peninsula, has said the country has sufficient laws to curb the spread of “fake news”. – February 13, 2018.