Politicians: Fake news law stifles freedom

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The new fake news ordinance, which came into effect today, grants the government sweeping powers to stifle fundamental freedoms and to silence the democratic right to dissent, said DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

He said the “disturbing” catch-all definition of fake news impinges on the constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

“This new fake news law could place at risk independent and impartial online news portals offering alternative views to the mainstream government media,” Lim said in a statement.

The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No 2) Ordinance 2021 defines fake news as any news, information, data and report “which is wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the proclamation of emergency, whether in the forms of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas”.

“The ordinance should have been debated and passed in Parliament. Unfortunately, Parliament continues to be suspended even though the King had opined that the emergency proclamation does not preclude the convening of Parliamentary meetings,” he said.

Selayang member of Parliament William Leong Jee Keen described the ordinance as a “draconian enactment” and urged the government to repeal it.

Leong said, countering fake news will require the government to disclose science-based evidence transparently to the public.

“Such Draconian provisions are usually enacted by authoritarian regimes to curb freedom of speech.

“The people are in need of information regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and measures to address it.

“It is only natural for people to want to know whether the different types of vaccines are effective and safe,” he said.

Khalid Samad said the ordinance is “too sweeping and works to scare the people”.

“These laws carry a severe implication and are in contradiction to the constitution,” the former Federal Territories minister said.

“It must be debated in Parliament before being passed, but the emergency rule has given the government sweeping powers in passing laws without going through Parliament.

“Since there is no need to go through anyone, they can pass laws as and when they like.”

Khalid said this is one of the main reasons why the emergency rule, which came into effect on February 12 and will end on August 1, needs to end.

“The emergency rule needs to end so that Malaysia is not governed by an autocratic government with no check and balance and accountability,” Khalid said.

Pejuang lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali agreed with Khalid and said the fake news ordinance is a “movement to silent dissent”.

He said this is an attempt to silence those who have been questioning the government’s decisions, especially those pertaining to the emergency.

“Legally, this new law will have a big implication on the rights to freedom of speech and expression which are guaranteed under the constitution.

“It should be contested in a court of law as it limits the people’s right to free speech,” he added.

Meanwhile, Umno Supreme Council member Mohd Razlan Rafii has questioned Putrajaya whether the new fake news law related to Covid-19 and the state of emergency was to silence politicians and prevent them from debating current issues.

He said a law to control fake news related to the Covid-19 pandemic was understandable as health was important.

“However, why can’t we talk about other current issues? Is it to shut up politicians? Are they trying to curb healthy discussions?” he asked.

The ordinance applies to all media forms “capable of suggesting words or ideas”, such as news features, videos and audio material.

Those who create, publish or distribute fake news will face a fine of up to RM100,000, a jail term of up to three years or both under the new emergency ordinance.

Those who pay for the creation of such fake news will face harsher punishment, with fines of up to RM500,000 or a jail term of six years, or both.

In addition, the courts may order those convicted of an offence to apologise to those affected by their actions. Failure to do so may result in another fine of up to RM50,000, a jail term of under a year, or both.

Provisions under the ordinance mirror those in the Anti-Fake News Act, which was repealed in 2019 during the tenure of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.