COMMENT: Though the concern over the utilisation of fake news is global, which the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) agrees must be managed; SUHAKAM having perused the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 (“Bill”) cannot support the Bill for the following reasons:
1. The Bill in its present form has far reaching consequences as the law could be used to exert government control over the media. At present, Malaysia is ranked poorly at 144th out of 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
2. The implications of the proposed law can be enormous and can inspire an authoritarian form of government. The government’s track record in utilising laws for reasons other than its intended purpose is arguably questionable.
3. The Bill fails to specify the body responsible to verify whether the news or information is fake.
4. Not only have there been very limited consultations with the public, the dissolution of parliament being imminent means that debates on the Bill, for the Bill to become law will be rushed. This practice is not in the national interest.
5. Despite being legally mandated to advise and assist government in formulating legislation, SUHAKAM was only invited to the final consultation, without having sight of the Bill. The trend to ignore this provision in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 is of serious concern.
6. The definition of fake news in the Bill is unclear as it does not offer a distinction between news generated by malicious intent or otherwise.
7. Clause 8(3) of the intended law is 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.
8. 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 (UDHR).
9. The meaning of “knowingly” under clause 4(1) is ambiguous.
10. The penalties proposed in the Bill can be interpreted as being unreasonable and disproportionate. “Human Rights for All”
SUHAKAM strongly suggests that a parliamentary committee be set up to consider plausible measures to address the issue of fake news, and to avoid confusion among the public given that Malaysia has already many laws to address forms of hate speech and/or unlawful content which are found in the Penal Code, Sedition Act, Defamation Act, Printing Presses and Publication Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act, among others.
By Razali Ismail, Chairman Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)