KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the many criticisms against it, the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 was passed with two amendments during the committee stage at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
The two amendments were replacing the word “”knowingly” with “maliciously” in clause four and reducing the punishment in clause five from the maximum 10 years’ jail to six years.
The controversial Bill was passed without any bloc voting.
According to The Star Online, human rights groups and lawyers were unhappy that the Bill was rushed through despite the numerous concerns and objections raised.
Lawyers for Liberty said it was regrettable that the Bill was passed without enough debate and deliberation.
“It is a dangerous development and will jeopardise freedom of speech,” its executive director Eric Paulsen told The Star.
“Everyone is saying … the law is disproportionate and very open-ended,” he said, adding that the definition of fake news is vague and the punishment is too high despite the two amendments to the Bill.
“It is unclear to what extent a piece of fake news has to reach before it can be acted upon.
“It does not say ‘fake news that leads to public disorder’ or ‘threat to national security’, thus the authorities can act as long as they deem it is fake,” he said.
He said the law was an exaggeration of the threat posed by fake news and could be used to clamp down on dissent and the Opposition.
Malaysian Bar Council president George Varughese said Bills should go through the select committee process in order for proper and considered laws to be enacted.
“It is shocking how important legislation with serious ramifications is being rushed through Parliament.
“This is especially so when there already are various laws to address fake news.”
He said the Bill in its current form could be abused in its implementation to suppress freedom of expression.
Earlier during the policy stage, a bloc voting was called by the Opposition but saw 123 voting for the Bill with 64 against it.
According to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, the Bill was to safeguard everyone, ensure public order and national security.
The Bill will be presented to the Dewan Negara to be debated. Once passed, it will be sent to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong for the Royal Assent.
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) remained firmly against the Bill.
Chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said Suhakam would not budge from its stand that the Bill stifled freedom of speech.
Razali said the implications of the proposed law could be enormous and inspire an authoritarian form of government.
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye was concerned that the Bill was moved quickly and urged the Government to open the debate to greater public scrutiny before further action.
“The definitions are extremely vague, leaving excessive discretion for officials to define ‘fake news’. The penalties are harsh, seemingly disproportionate.
“Tabling to voting (so) quickly is, in my view, very problematic,” he said on Twitter.
Media groups said journalists now have another criminal law hovering over them, further affecting press freedom.
Representing both the Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IOJ) and WAN-Ifra Media Freedom Committee (Malaysia), journalist Ram Anand expressed disappointment that the Bill was passed without further engagement with the media.
He said media organisations were not engaged in the drafting of the Bill and were given only one briefing session after it was tabled for first reading.
“We should be removing criminal laws that affect the media, not add more,” said Ram, who is WAN-Ifra co-chairman.
He said the major threats journalists face under the new law, when certain stories are dragged through the courts, include individuals who can make ex-parte applications to remove news articles, and possibly having to forgo qualified privilege in quoting sources.
“Both IOJ and WAN-Ifra have repeatedly stressed that journalists should not be subjected to actions under criminal law due to unhappiness or disagreements over news articles,” he said.
“Individuals, governments and politicians can always write in to the organisation in the event of such disputes or take action via civil suits,” he said.
The National Union of Journalists Malaysia general secretary Chin Sung Chew was also disappointed that the Bill had been passed.
He questioned Clause 8(3) of the Bill which stated that a removal order by the Government against a publication that was possibly prejudicial to public order or national security could not be set aside.