Reports by HEMANANTHANI SIVANANDAM, HANIS ZAINAL, TARRENCE TAN and ROYCE TAN
KUALA LUMPUR: Two changes will be made to the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 when it is passed, including the reduction of jail time for creating and spreading fake news from 10 years to six years.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the other change was a proposal to replace the word “knowingly” in clause four with “maliciously”.
The amendments were made after hearing from various parties, including lawmakers, she said.
“The Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 tabled for its second reading on Thursday is not to restrict the people’s freedom of speech, but to stop the spread of fake news.
“The Bill is to act as a deterrent to send a clear message to each individual to be responsible in sharing information that is true and right,” she said in a statement yesterday.
She also said the move to propose the amendments at the Committee stage of the debates showed that the Government was caring and willing to accept all views to make the legislation inclusive and comprehensive.
Azalina also said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had agreed to the proposed amendments in clauses four and five.
Earlier, while tabling the Bill for its second reading, she said existing laws did not adequately address the issue, including the act of creating and disseminating fake news.
“Although there are several laws, the issue has not been addressed effectively and quickly enough to match the fast and complex development of information technology,” said Azalina, citing examples such as the disappearance of MH370 and the ensuing falsehoods that made the rounds.
Fake news, she added, could lead to emotional distress and financial losses to those affected.
Malaysia was not the only country to introduce measures to combat fake news, she said, citing countries such as Singapore, the Philippines and France.
“Like it or not, fake news has a negative impact on the security and stability of a country.
“The unity built over the years in the country could be undermined by it,” she said, adding that the Bill aimed to send the message that the Government would not compromise on public order and security.
Several groups said the amendments did not address several issues that were raised, such as the ex-parte order to remove publication.
Senior lawyer Datuk Roger Tan said while he welcomed the changes, he was concerned about the provision for an affected party to get an ex-parte court order to remove any publication thought to be fake news.
“This is against press freedom and I don’t know how journalists can carry out their work.
“If the removed news is later found to be true after hearing both parties (inter partes), the news may have already become old and no longer newsworthy.
“In my view, any such application must be made inter partes,” he said, adding that what was published by the press was already subject to laws of defamation and sedition.
The Malaysian Bar Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo said the reduction of the jail term, although significant, still did not address the fact that the Bill was unnecessary.
He stressed that it should not be criminalised at all and therefore, the issue of a fine or jail term should not arise.
“Secondly, if you change ‘knowingly’ to ‘maliciously’, then you are all the more ... on the same page as Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
“That weakens justification for a separate piece of legislation,” he said, adding that the Bar was still calling for the entire Bill to be dropped.
Institute of Journalists Malaysia board member Ram Anand said the amendments still did not address the two most crucial issues relating to the takedown order.
The first was that individuals or the Government could compel the media to remove news articles via ex-parte applications before the media had the chance to confirm the veracity and authenticity of an article.
“Another major concern is how this law will affect stories based on source information, if they will be considered fake news,and if we (journalists) will be compelled to reveal our sources.”
Ram added that the reduced jail time still seemed excessive because existing laws covering similar issues carried lighter punishments.
The National Union of Journalists said it was pleased that the Government took the views of the people into consideration.
“We think it is reasonable that ‘knowingly’ is replaced by ‘maliciously’.
“We also welcome the reduction of the jail term, but are disappointed to note that the fine remains at RM500,000,” said its general secretary Chin Sung Chew.
Meanwhile, CIMB Group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak also called for the Bill to be comprehensively drafted and debated.
He wrote on Instagram that as much as he abhorred fake news, he felt the Bill should be deferred.
“It mustn’t be rushed. This is about basic rights of individual expression, and instilling fear of such draconian punishment based on ambiguous definitions will retard our society,” he said.