MALAYSIA: ANTI-FAKE NEWS LAW IN LINE WITH CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS: ACADEMIC

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia April 13 (NNN-Bernama) While the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018, that was passed by the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) on April 2, has its fair share of supporters, its opponents are alleging that it will stifle free speech.

One academic, however, pointed out that the new law was well within the ambit of the provisions on freedom of expression as specified in the Federal Constitution.

International Islamic University Malaysia law lecturer Prof Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod, who is also a political analyst, said some parties may have overlooked the fact that the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 10 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution was not absolute as it came with certain limitations.

According to the article’s provisions, freedom of speech can be restricted on the grounds of safeguarding the nation’s security, international relations and parliamentary privileges, as well as maintaining public order and preventing contempt of court, slander and criminal activities.

“As such, any law that is drafted in line with the provisions enshrined in the Constitution is considered valid even though it is seen as impeding the freedom of speech,” Nik Ahmad Kamal told Bernama, recently.

The Anti-Fake News Bill, which was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) on March 26 by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said, is aimed at checking the dissemination of fake news brought on by the development of modern technology.

Any person who, by any means, creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news is liable to imprisonment of up to six years or a fine of up to RM500,000 or both.

The Bill was passed by the Dewan Negara (Senate) on April 3 and gazetted on April 11.

BALANCED APPROACH

Existing laws like the Sedition Act 1948, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 also restrict freedom of speech to some extent, Nik Ahmad Kamal said, whilst dismissing allegations that the Anti-Fake News Act was designed to clamp down the media and oppress the opposition in the run-up to the 14th general election.

“(In Malaysia) Freedom of speech is conditional and in accordance with the restrictions imposed by the Constitution,” he said.

In spite of these restrictions, the people were free to take part in political activities.

In fact, campaigning for GE14 had started long before the official announcement on the dissolution of Parliament on April 7, he said.

“All the parties are free to speak out and communicate, as long as they don’t flout the existing laws,” he added.

The Election Commission has set May 9 as polling day and April 28 as nomination day for GE14.

While acknowledging that legislation that restrict freedom of speech may curtail the public from voicing out their opinions, Nik Ahmad Kamal such laws were necessary in view of the current scenario where the liberal dissemination of false news has resulted in individuals being negatively affected.

Urging the government to be rational when scanning for fake news, he said any news item that was found to be true should be allowed to be published and circulated although it could taint the image of a certain person or institution.

“There has to be a balanced approach between stopping (dissemination) of false news and allowing the passage of genuine news even though it cannot be verified due to technical problems or legal restrictions,” he said.

MEDIA LITERACY

Media and communications expert Dr Mohd Khairie Ahmad said while laws like the Anti-Fake News Act would help to prevent fake news from going viral, it was also important to educate the people in media literacy.

“A media literate community is the key to staving off the challenges posed by the cyber and digital era,” he said, adding that people with media literacy have what it takes to filter negative behaviour in cyberspace.

“Today, we are all living in the age of the new media, hence the importance of media literacy among the people.”

Mohd Khairie, who is a senior lecturer and fellow at Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Advanced Communication Research Unit, said while laws like the Anti-Fake News Act were preventive in nature, it was more important to educate the public to be media literate.

Self-censorship, he added, has the potential to stop false news from spreading like wildfire.

“There’s no way fake news can go viral if there are no takers,” he added.NNN-BERNAMA

Source: NAM News Network