‘Don’t pass new law in haste’
Wednesday, 28 March 2018

PETALING JAYA: Senior lawyers have called for a committee to be set up to conduct a study into the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 and urged the Government not to pass the Bill in haste.

Passing a law with draconian provisions could seriously affect Malaysia’s cherished freedoms and democracy, said Datuk Roger Tan.

He said the lightning speed in passing the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 might suggest that national security was at stake, which was not the case.

He said Malaysia should have followed Singapore’s example by setting up a parliamentary committee to study the proposed law first.

“If 80% of the fake news were spread via online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, then this could already be handled by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC),” he said.

He expressed worry the way the Bill was drafted, which makes every offence a seizable offence.

A seizable offence means an offender can be arrested without a warrant.

“It is worrying as it might be abused by some parties.

“A law is only good if it has safeguards against it being abused,” Tan said in a WhatsApp interview from abroad.

He said that educating the public and schoolchildren to think critically and improve on their intellectual capacity to differentiate between fake and real news should be the priority.

Tan voiced his concerns over who has the power to decide what is fake news and what is not.

“Will all government propaganda be real news?” he asked.

The Malaysian Bar urged the Government to withdraw the proposed legislation from consideration in the current Parliament sitting and to convene a proper Select Committee to look comprehensively and publicly into the issue.

Its president George Varughese said sensitivities about the reputation of Malaysia by way of negative comments and criticisms can now be attacked through “an extremely wide extra-territorial application of the proposed legislation, putting this in the same category as international terrorism, cross-border corruption, money laundering and trafficking in persons”.

“While this issue should not be ignored, the proposed broad-based law to criminalise the dissemination of news amounts to legislative overkill.

“‘False news’ is already criminalised under Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA). The definition of ‘publication’ in the PPPA is not dissimilar to the various definitions in the proposed legislation.

“A ‘false’ communication is also criminalised under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

“These provisions beg the question of why there is any need to create a new law to criminalise ‘fake’ or ‘false’ news,” he said in a statement yesterday.