To combat fake news, it appears that the Malaysian government has proposed a law that would make it illegal to spread fake news. If found guilty, those found in violation could face a fine up to 10 years in prison and a 500,000 ringgit (approx. $128,165) fine to go along with it, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In the proposed law, it says, “‘Fake news’ includes any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.” This would also apply to publications that are outside of Malaysia if the country or its citizens are affects by the fake reports.
While the government is pushing this bill to help combat problems with fake news, many say that it’s a way for the current administration to censor media and silence reports regarding the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state investment fund, which is currently being investigated by several countries for allegedly engaging in money laundering activities and misappropriation of funds. Prime Minister Najib Razak has also faced heavy criticism over the find, but has denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
Fahmi Fadzil, a critic of the bill, along with others, have called it draconian, and the Asia Internet Coalition, which said in a statement, “We believe that prescriptive legislation designed to control the exchange of information will not adequately address the issue of false news effectively since discerning whether information is ‘true’ or ‘false’ can be highly subjective and risk compromising access to information and legitimate exchange of ideas.”
James Gomez, director of Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and Pacific division, said, “This bill is an assault on freedom of expression. The vague and broad definition of ‘fake news,’ combined with severe punishments and arbitrary arrest powers for police, shows that this is nothing but a blatant attempt to shield the government from peaceful criticism. This bill must be scrapped immediately.”
The bill will still have to pass in both houses of the parliament, but the Wall Street Journal says that it is expected to be approved ahead of the country’s upcoming national elections.