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Commission raises concerns over anti-fake news legislation

Graphic: Keyboard with 'fake news' on keys

In a statement, SUHAKAM said the the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 could be used to exert government control over the media.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has raised a series of concerns regarding the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018, saying it can be used to exert government control over the media.

SUHAKAM Chairperson Tan Sri Razali Ismail said the implications of the proposed law could be enormous and "inspire an authoritarian form of government".

"The government's track record in utilising laws for reasons other than its intended purpose is arguably questionable," Razali said in a statement on 28 March 2018.

He said the Bill also failed to specify which body was responsible to verify whether a piece of news or information was fake.

Razali said the definition of fake news in the Bill was unclear as it did not offer a distinction between news generated by malicious intent or otherwise.

"Not only has there been very limited consultation with the public, the dissolution of Parliament being imminent means that debates on the Bill, for it to become law, will be rushed. This practice is not in the national interest," he said.

Razali added that although SUHAKAM was legally mandated to advise and assist the government in formulating legislation, the human rights body was only invited to the final consultation without being able to review the Bill.

He also raised concerns about Clause 8(3) of the Bill, noting that it was unclear in its definition of what can be "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order or national security".

"SUHAKAM cannot agree on this clause as it ousts the jurisdiction of the courts, further taking away judicial powers and denying the right to seek relief from the courts, which is an affront to the rule of law in a democratic form of government," Razali said.

"This is also not in line with the intended spirit of the principles of freedom of expression in the Federal Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights."


Update

The Anti-Fake Act 2018 was gazetted on 11 April 2018, following debate in the parliament in early April. Several amendments were made to the original Bill, including reducing the length of imprisonment for creating and spreading fake news from 10 to six years, and replacing the word "knowingly" to "maliciously."


Image credits

  1. Keyboard with 'fake news' on keys - Jeso Carneiro, Flickr