As Malaysia moves to ban ‘fake news,’ worries about who decides the truth

The New York Times reports:

In highway billboards and radio announcements, the government of Malaysia is warning of a new enemy: “fake news.”

On Monday, the lower house of Parliament passed a bill outlawing fake news, the first measure of its kind in the world. The proposal, which allows for up to six years in prison for publishing or circulating misleading information, is expected to pass the Senate this week and to come into effect soon after.

The legislation would punish not only those who are behind fake news but also anyone who maliciously spreads such material. Online service providers would be responsible for third-party content, and anyone could lodge a complaint. As long as Malaysia or Malaysians are affected, fake news generated outside the country is also subject to prosecution.

What qualifies as fake news, however, is ill defined. Ultimately, the government would be given broad latitude to decide what constitutes fact in Malaysia.

“Fake news has become a global phenomenon, but Malaysia is at the tip of the spear in trying to fight it with an anti-fake news law,” said Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, a senior official with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. “When the American president made ‘fake news’ into a buzzword, the world woke up.”

But members of Malaysia’s political opposition say the legislation is intended to stifle free speech ahead of elections that are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been tainted by a scandal involving billions of dollars that were diverted from Malaysia’s state investment fund.

“Instead of a proper investigation into what happened, we have a ministry of truth being created,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker from the People’s Justice Party and the daughter of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. [Continue reading…]

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