Fake News Could Mean Big Jail Time In Malaysia With This Bill


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The Malaysian government proposed new legislation Monday that could mean 10 years in prison for publishing fake news stories, Associated Press reports, and people are worried it is a violation of journalistic freedom.

If the bill is approved by parliament, “those who create, offer, circulate, print or publish fake news or publications containing fake news” could spend 10 years in jail and be fined up to $1280,000.

The Malaysian government has “accused the opposition coalition [or Pakatan Rakyat] of using fake news as a key weapon to win votes and warned that any news on the indebted 1MDB state fund that had not been verified by the government is fake.”

Putting the government in control of deciding which news should be considered fake and which news should be considered real worries activists because “new law could be used to criminalize news reports and critical opinions on government misconduct.”

While government officials claim the law is “to protect public harmony and national security,” people are particularly skeptical after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was discovered to be involved in a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal. Following the scandal, this legislation seems to some like an attack on the press and opinions that don’t shed a positive light on people with high-profile government titles.

As opposition member Ong Kian Ming tweeted Monday, “This is an attack on the press and an attempt to instill fear among the rakyat before GE14.”

Those who say that journalists have nothing to fear from the Anti-Fake News bill as long as they report accurately is clearly missing the point…” Ming tweeted later. “The point of such a law IS to prosecute truth tellers by labeling them as purveyors of fake news.”

Others have shared more positive reactions, like this user, who tweeted, “Dear @realDonaldTrump, we are tabling Anti Fake News Bill now here in Malaysia. You should be proud.”

According to the bill, fake news is “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas,” but the government gets to decide which news stories have what they deem to contain false information, data, or reports. 

Punishment for the sharing of the government’s definition of fake news concerning Malaysia applies even to those who do not live in the country. As the bill states, “If any offense under this Act is committed by any person, whatever his nationality or citizenship, in any place outside Malaysia, he may be dealt with in respect of such offense as if the offense was committed at any place within Malaysia.”