Kuala Lumpur, 12 March 2021 – The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) reads with serious concern the latest ordinance issued to combat “fake news” and the Emergency proclamation.
This is not the first time the Malaysian government has used the proliferation of fake news as an excuse to define what is true and what is not. In 2019, the Anti Fake News Act 2018 was repealed, but this new Ordinance seems to have revived some elements from it.
“We are particularly concerned with the wide definition of “fake news” which covers not only news related to COVID-19 but also on the proclamation of Emergency itself. The scale of the punishment of up to RM100,000 for those who create, publish or distribute fake news, or a jail term of up to three years, or both, are unnecessarily severe”, comments Tricia Yeoh, CEO of IDEAS. Under the law, fake news will include “features, visuals, or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words and ideas.”
“This basically gives the government sweeping powers to define any material as being “fake news.” What is more concerning is, because it is an Emergency Ordinance, the government, police or any authorised officer cannot be brought to court for carrying out the provision of this Ordinance. There is a clear absence of democratic mandate in the enforcement of this Ordinance, which makes it even worse than the repealed Anti Fake News Act of 2018”, added Yeoh.
“This Ordinance strengthens the perception that the state of Emergency we are currently in is a smokescreen to curb any form of criticism towards the government of the day. It should be acknowledged that many have provided constructive criticism precisely because they are concerned about the state of the nation and genuinely want improvements.
“The Emergency has meant that Parliament continues to be suspended, seriously paralysing the democratic process. The Malaysian people cannot continue to be held ransom by politicians.
“One of the basic tenets of a functioning democracy is the freedom citizens have to speak up on any matter, especially the ability to call out wrongdoing and keep the government accountable. This Ordinance is a serious step backwards in Malaysia’s already worrying decline in democratic status. IDEAS urges for Parliament to be reconvened and the people’s freedoms be respected”, concluded Yeoh.
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