PETALING JAYA: The government has launched a crackdown on those who spread bogus information relating to the novel coronavirus on social media.
Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas said those who initiate and disseminate lies on any issue relating to coronavirus on the Internet would be investigated and charged, if there was a case to be made.
“The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) is working closely with the police, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and other agencies to prevent the spread of false statements.
“I take very seriously the incredible volume of lies relating to the coronavirus epidemic gripping the attention of Malaysians, and, indeed, across the globe, and the AGC is determined to prevent the spread of false statements.
“Our health authorities must be allowed to deal with the problem in a calm and measured manner, without having to cope with extraneous matters, ” he said in a statement on Wednesday (Feb 5).
Thomas said charges would be made against the individuals concerned in the coming days.
“The statutorily guaranteed freedom of free speech and expression, and the right not to censor the Internet, do not give a license to propagate lies.
“Whether in private dealings or in the public and national affairs of the state, truth is paramount.
“When times of epidemic or pandemic crisis occur in any society, it is critical that truthful and honest statements are issued by health authorities on a regular and prompt basis, so that the millions of individuals who make up a society can themselves make informed decisions relating to their own health and safety, and that of their loved ones, ” he said.
He added that panic must be prevented among the citizenry, and that the authorities should guide the people on the origins, scale and magnitude of an outbreak calmly and firmly.
Thomas said lies about the origins, scale and magnitude of the disease must not be permitted because they would endanger public safety.
“That rumour-mongering is repugnant to common decency is most pronounced at such times in our national lives.
“The credibility of the Internet as the pre-eminent source of news and information is therefore vital, ” he said, adding that the phenomenon was compounded by the obsession to introduce racial or religious overtones into every issue of public life.
“Hence, lies on the Internet connecting coronavirus to any particular ethnic or religious group is not only deplorable but inflammatory in our plural society of numerous ethnic and religious groups, ” he added.