By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The highly contentious Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 was passed by parliament on Monday, April 2 with two minor amendments. It was passed with 123 in favour while 64 opposed it. The two amendments made were replacing the word “knowingly “ with “maliciously” in clause four and reducing the punishment from the maximum 10 years to six years in clause five. However, the maximum fine of RM500, 000 remains. The punishments are by all means excessive as the objective is to deter people from peddling and creating fake news that, in the opinion of the legislators (government), would undermine national security and, perhaps, cause tension and uncertainty in the country.
Interestingly, the term “fake news” was made popular by President Donald Trump in his run-up to the 2016 Presidential elections soon after winning his Republican Party presidential primaries. Multi-billionaire businessman and one-time reality TV star, Donald Trump had “erroneously” identified news and statements that portrayed him in a poor light as fake news and had threatened lawsuits against those who propagated them. It is news that demonise him that is termed as fake news rather than the true essence of the term.
Incidentally, fake news is defined as a “type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and or gain financially or politically often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership, online sharing, and Internet click revenue.”
Interestingly enough, the American Congress did not go overboard by legislating fake news as a law unto itself like its Malaysian counterpart has done. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India ordered the withdrawal of rules punishing journalists held responsible for distributing fake news, giving no reasons for the change, less than 24 hours after announcing it.
The nation’s legal fraternity has questioned the function of the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 saying that some of the clauses are similar to existing laws. It feels that issues can be addressed by civil litigation rather than having a dedicated law for it.
Some of the clauses of the Bill, they argued, overlapped with Section 8A of the Printing Press and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984. Malice can be rebutted if there are reasonable steps taken to verify the truth of the news. This is the only icing on the cake as the pre-amended bill insisted on knowledge as the mantra. The definition of knowledge is rather restrictive and is also subjective leaving very little room for manoeuvring. Although PPPA 1984 was passed to regulate the media industry, the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 will affect the media’s freedom of speech or worse, our freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution.
The Bill does not specify what amounts to fake news since the illustrations listed in it are narrow and not exhaustive. The concern is primarily on who decides what fake news is before he or she is being hauled to court.
The implementation of the law, the fraternity argued, could lead to an abuse of power by the government. The Bill seems to suggest that a government order, obtained via an ex parte application, cannot be set aside unlike that of an individual. In short, it is an arbitrary ruling without a recourse for an appeal.
The punishments imposed under the law are a wee bit too steep for someone who had been convicted for spreading fake news. He or she can be jailed 6 years or fined RM500,000, or both. Those persisting in spreading fake news will be further fined RM100,000 if they fail to remove such publications and a fine of RM3,000 for every day the offence is committed.
It is definitely excessive. And with such a law hanging over our heads it makes a complete mockery of living in a modern world where information technology is progressing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis.
I shall stop at that lest I am being accused of disseminating fake news.
It is now official, dates for the long-awaited General Election 14 (GE 14) have been formally announced by the Election Commission. The announcement by Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah, Chairman of the Election Commission at noon on Tuesday April 10 provided much relief for Malaysians who were eagerly waiting for the momentous moment since last year.
Wednesday, May 9 is now the official polling day. Candidates, vying for both state and parliamentary seats, have an 11-day campaign period to slug it out as they canvass in what is being popularly termed as “the father of all elections”.
Upon receiving the news Malaysians took to social media to vent their pent-up emotions. The more creative ones came up with some very interesting abbreviations linked to the day and date of the voting day. It is either for or against the BN government. The creativity of our netizens is simply marvelous. It will be a pity if their expressive minds are being curtailed by the advent of Fake News Bill 2018.
Many bemoaned the choice of May 9 as the polling day but this is not the first time elections are held on a working day. Weekday elections were conducted in 1959, 1982, 1995 and 1999. Voters’ turnout does not vary much whether on weekdays or weekends. Incidentally, the highest turnout was during GE13 in 2013. It was on a weekend. Some 84.8 percent of eligible voters cast their votes throughout the country.
I took to social media too in dismissing claims that a weekday election will deter people from going to the polls. And this was what I said, and I quote:
“If you care for the well-being of your country, date and time do not matter. Bring it on. We are ready for it.”
My wife received a call from a friend following the announcement, she complained that her polling station was not on the electoral roll. This is a common complaint with voters. Have they been consistent in voting in the past? If they have not, the possibility of them being reassigned to another constituency is great.
To check your status you can either download the MySPR Semak App or check via the EC website or send a text (SMS) via your mobile phone:
Send “SPR SEMAK < IC Number without dash> to 15888 (eg “SPR SEMAK 810203011234).
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari