Malaysian Government Pushes 'Fake News' Bill Aimed At Curb-Stomping Reporting About Its Corruption
from the STFU-citizens dept
Back in 2016, the Malaysian government pushed for broad censorship of an already tightly-controlled internet. The basis for this push was the government’s inability to stop Malaysian media from reporting on government corruption. This reporting continued on platforms (and with news agencies) the government didn’t directly control. To shut this down, the government decided to strip immunity from media platforms, making them directly responsible for user content. This allowed the government to control the narrative by going after service providers, rather than those publishing inconvenient facts.
The Malaysian government still hasn’t been able to completely shut down critical reporting. Two years later, it’s trying again, this time using an excuse provided by the newest US president: fake news.
Under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, anyone who publishes so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both.
“The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” the government said in the bill.
The government defined fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and included features, visuals and audio recordings.
The law, which covers digital publications and social media, would apply to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.
The last part attempts to make this enforceable anywhere in the world, putting foreign service providers at risk of accruing fines for refusing to take down anything the government declares “fake news.” The proposed bill has already been criticized by Amnesty International as being nothing more than a “blatant attempt to shield the government from peaceful criticism.” The first part — the contradictory claim that targeting news the government doesn’t like somehow equates to a free speech protection — is just knuckle-dragging dissembling from a government that knows the public doesn’t believe its claptrap.
Even if the government’s intentions are pure (which they certainly aren’t), the term “fake news” is almost impossible to define. Outlandishly false “reporting” is rarely targeted. What’s most commonly referred to as “fake news” is any reporting the party in power doesn’t like. The same would be the case here, as one Malaysian government official helpfully explained:
A deputy minister was quoted in Malaysian media last week as saying that any news on 1MDB that had not been verified by the government was “fake”.
The bill is nothing more than a threat to dangle over the Malaysian public to deter further discussion of government corruption. The government already directly controls the mainstream media, so the addition of an “affecting Malaysian people” clause is there to give it the legal permission to demand removal of content worldwide. Service providers located in other countries should follow blogging platform Medium’s example: when faced with demands to delete reporting on the magical appearance of $700 million in the Malaysian prime minister’s bank account, the platform demanded proof of the government’s claims that the report was false. When this failed to materialize, Medium left the content up and reiterated its support for investigative journalism.
This will likely become law in the near future. The party in power holds a significant majority in the Parliament. The country’s corrupt government will give itself the tools it needs to punish citizens for attempting to hold it accountable. And the term “fake news” will continue to be abused by authoritarian governments to stifle dissent.