Suhakam: Govt may use Anti-Fake News Bill to control the press

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 29: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is against Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 as the Bill once passed may be used to exert government control over the media.

This was the first reason stated by its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail in a statement yesterday listing 10 reasons why Suhakam did not agree with the introduction of the Bill, though it basically agreed that the global phenomenon of fake news needed to be managed.

“The Bill in its present form has far reaching consequences as the law could be used to exert government control over the media. At present, Malaysia is ranked poorly at 144th out of 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index,” said Razali.

The second reason he stated was that “the implications of the proposed law can be enormous and can inspire an authoritarian form of government. The government’s track record in utilising laws for reasons other than its intended purpose is arguably questionable”.

Thirdly, Razali pointed out that the Bill failed to specify the body responsible to verify whether the news or information is fake.

“Not only have there been very limited consultations with the public, the dissolution of Parliament being imminent means that debates on the Bill, for the Bill to become law will be rushed. This practice is not in the national interest.

“Despite being legally mandated to advise and assist government in formulating legislation, Suhakam was only invited to the final consultation, without having sight of the Bill. The trend to ignore this provision in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 is of serious concern,” said Razali in stating the fourth and fifth reasons.

He went on to say that the definition of “fake news” in the Bill was unclear as it did not offer a distinction between news generated by malicious intent or otherwise.

“Clause 8(3) of the intended law is unclear in its definition of what can be ‘prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order or national security’.

“Suhakam cannot agree on this clause as it ousts the jurisdiction of the courts, further taking away judicial powers and denying the right to seek relief from the courts, which is an affront to the rule of law in a democratic form of government,” said Razali.

He said the Bill was also not in line with the intended spirit of the principles of freedom of expression in the Federal Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

“The meaning of “knowingly” under clause 4(1) is ambiguous,” Razali said, when stating the ninth reason.

For the last reason, he stated that “the penalties proposed in the Bill can be interpreted as being unreasonable and disproportionate”.

He thus strongly suggested that a parliamentary committee be set up to consider plausible measures to address the issue of fake news, and to avoid confusion among the public given that Malaysia has already many laws to address forms of hate speech and/or unlawful content which are found in the Penal Code, Sedition Act, Defamation Act, Printing Presses and Publication Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act, among others.

The Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 was tabled in Parliament for its first reading on Monday. It was tabled for the second reading today. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said was reported as saying in a Facebook post today that there is a proposal to change the word “knowingly” in clause four to “maliciously” while the originally proposed 10-year jail term will be reduced to six years.

She 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.

Once the Bill is passed, anyone found to be “creating, offering, publishing, printing, distributing, circulating or disseminating” any fake news or publication could be fined up to RM500,000 or face imprisonment of up to 10 years (as originally proposed) or both.

In addition, anyone who is found to be providing financial assistance in facilitating the offence will also be receiving the same punishment.

Meanwhile, any person who fails to remove the fake news is also liable to a fine of up to RM100,000. Continuous offence after conviction will incur a further fine of up to RM3,000 per day. — DayakDaily