New Malaysian Prime Minister Who Promised To Kill 'Fake News' Law Decides It Might Be Useful Now That He's In Power
from the twist-everyone-saw-coming dept
The “fake news” law erected in Malaysia was put in place to do one thing: allow the government to increase its control of journalists. Top-level corruption needed to be buried, and a “fake news” law seemed like a handy way to do it. The law made one thing clear: the government alone would decide what news was fake. The most likely target appeared to be reporting about the mysterious appearance of $700 million in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal bank account.
The law claimed its first victim shortly after being enacted. A Danish citizen visiting Malaysia was arrested and charged after he posted a YouTube video allegedly misrepresenting the time it took for emergency services to respond to the shooting of a Hamas engineering expert. The man will now spend a month in jail after being unable to pay the $2,500 fine handed down by the court.
It once looked like the law might be headed for a swift derailment. Mahathir Mohamad promised he would abolish the law entirely if elected Prime Minister. The BBC reports only part of the previous sentence has come to pass.
Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he will redefine a controversial anti-fake news law introduced by his predecessor.
The legislation, brought in just before last week’s election, was criticised as undermining freedom of speech.
Having obtained power, Mahathir now seems unwilling to use it to fulfill his campaign promise. This seems especially odd considering Mahathir was investigated for “spreading fake news” during his election run after he claimed his campaign plane had been tampered with. You would think someone targeted by a bogus law erected to suppress dissent and silence critics of the ruling party would want a law like this abolished, rather than merely “redefined.” But I guess Mahathir would like to have a law to abuse himself, now that he’s the one facing criticism and greater scrutiny from Malaysian journalists.
The justification for this campaign promise flip-flop comes from a place of highly-conditional love for the concept of free speech.
[T]he new prime minister said on Sunday: “Even though we support freedom of press and freedom of speech, there are limits.”
“Free speech, but…” The favored terminology of people who want to protect speech they like and suppress everything they don’t. And Malaysian citizens are right back where they started after the regime change: subject to a “fake news” law that allows the government alone to determine what coverage is real and what should be punished with fines and jail sentences.