Agong Voices Support For The Government's Proposed Law To Combat Fake News On Social Media

The fake news law will be ready to be presented to Cabinet soon.

Cover image via Azneal Ishak

In his royal address to Parliament yesterday, 5 March, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V expressed his support to the Government's proposed law to curb fake news

Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Muhammad V (second from left) arriving at Dataran Parlimen, Kuala Lumpur to officially open the first meeting of the sixth session of the 13th Parliament, yesterday.

Image via Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali / News Straits Times

“Currently social media is very influential in forming the values and culture of a society. All parties should play a role to safeguard the good character and moral values in society,” the King said in his royal address at the opening of the first meeting of the sixth session of the 13th Parliament on Monday according to Malay Mail.

"Hence, we fully support the proposal to formulate laws to address the spread of fake news and slander on social media."

This is in line with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's announcement in January that a special committee had been formed to look into laws to curb fake news that threaten political stability and public order.

According to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, the final proposal of a fake news law will be ready to be presented to Cabinet in just two weeks

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Image via Halim Salleh / News Straits Times

The current parliament sitting, which is expected to focus on the delineation proposal and the bill on fake news, is scheduled for 20 days until 5 April.

The conference will be the final session before Parliament is dissolved for the 14th General Elections (GE14).

Though there is a definition for 'false news' in the law, there is none for 'fake news', which Datuk Azalina claims is different

“The tabling of an act to curb fake news is important as there is no clear definition of fake news in existing laws. We have false news but not fake news, which is a different interpretation… we have to allow the relevant agency in the Cabinet to discuss on the format we want,” she told reporters at the parliament lobby according to The Star.

“At this point, it is still premature for me to comment on the development of new acts to be tabled, as it is yet to be finalised. So far, only one proposed act is completed and will be included in the standing order. The rest are waiting for the Cabinet’s green light.”

She added that amendments to other laws would depend on what was included in the proposed law.

Opposition leaders are concerned with the formation of such a law, which they claim could be used to stifle the freedom of speech of government critics

Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara and Publicity Secretary for Democratic Action Party (DAP), Tony Pua.

Image via Choo Choy May / The Malay Mail

“There are many other laws that are already in existence which can deal with these issues, so the only reason for a new law to come in is to make the severity (of punishments) even higher,” said Tony Pua, a member of Parliament from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Malaysia currently has laws against the spread of false content, such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act.

If found guilty of any charges under these two Acts, the sentences are up to three years in prison or a fine of up to RM50,000.

In a Facebook video last month, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad urged the Government not to use fake news laws to "shut out the truth"

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in a Parti Pribumi BERSATU Malaysia Facebook video on February 6.

Image via Parti Pribumi BERSATU Malaysia video/ Facebook

"These new laws would be good if they were only used against actual fake news," the Pakatan Harapan and Bersatu chairman said in a video released on Facebook on 6 January.

Referring to news reports on the 1MDB scandal, he encouraged the Government to "Separate the truth from what is described as false news. Don't use this law to shut out the truth.

"If the intention is to censor all forms of news and label news from the opposition as 'fake news', then this is unjust and is an abuse," said Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, who also appeared in the video. 

Komen TUN/TAN SRI ISU Berita Palsu

Kerajaan Barisan Nasional bercakap tentang undang-undang baru yang mengekang berita palsu malah akan mengenakan tindakan yang tegas bagi mereka yang ingkar kepada undang-undang tersebut. Komen Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad dan Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin

Posted by Parti Pribumi BERSATU Malaysia on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

However, Malaysia is not the first country to legislate against fake news. Various governments around the world, such as Singapore and the UK, have taken similar measures.

The Singaporean government is reviewing existing laws made to tackle the spread of misinformation, with Members of Parliament unanimously backing the move to convene a Select Committee.

In the Philippines, the government is considering enacting anti-fake news legislation imposing fines and prison terms of up to 20 years.

Meanwhile, according to The StarBritish Prime Minister Theresa May announced in January of this year that the UK government is setting up a dedicated national security unit to combat fake news and disinformation.

In his New Year's Eve address, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would overhaul French media legislation to fight the spread of fake news, calling it a threat to liberal democracies.

Do you think a law against fake news will infringe upon Malaysians’ freedom of speech? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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