Malaysia tables controversial Bill aiming to deter spread of fake news

Malaysia yesterday tabled a wide-ranging Bill in Parliament that aims to deter the spread of fake news with fines of up to RM500,000 (S$168,000), or imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both.

The Bill targets fake news, which has been defined as "any news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas".

The Bill will be put up for a vote after a second reading in the current Parliament session, which ends on April 5.

This should not pose any hurdles as only a simple majority is required to pass it.

The ruling Barisan Nasional government has 131 MPs in the 222-member Parliament.

At least 112 votes are needed to pass the Bill.

The Bill is controversial as it allows legal action to be taken against any individual in any country, irrespective of the individual's nationality, as long as the content spread by that person relates to Malaysia or a Malaysian, and is deemed false.

The legislation also allows for action against those who reproduce or replicate such content substantially.

Those who publish fake news are to remove such content or face a fine of up to RM100,000, which can grow by up to RM3,000 for each day the content stays up, after someone has been convicted.

Those who are financiers to the propagators of fake news can be punished.

Last week, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Jailani Johari said any report about scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad that is not verified by the government is fake news.

Mr Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of the Malaysiakini news website, said: "This new law is more than just another layer of control by the government; it is a death blow to the sliver of democracy that we have."