Aliran believes that the anti-fake news bill that the ruling BN administration is trying to ram through Parliament ahead of the general election is a draconian bit of legislation that must be opposed.
The overly broad definition of fake news extends the traditional definition of news to cover all sorts of other messages in a way that goes beyond any good intention of the bill. In fact, it will make victims out of anyone who steps beyond a moving line.
The bill would make the Najib administration the sole definer of what constitutes truth. Everything else that contradicts their narrative would be simply fake. It is as good as the government having a Ministry of Truth (or its equivalent), a normal characteristic of any dictatorship on the planet.
We suspect the motive behind the bill is propelled by the administration’s desire to conceal uncomfortable truths such as the lingering 1MDB, Felda, Scorpene and Altantuya scandals. The idea behind the bill is to make it more difficult to hold the powers that be accountable for such scandals.
The proponents of the bill obviously hope that the people will succumb to a culture of fear, that they will be too afraid to share their thoughts with others on public interest issues. They hope we will be mentally imprisoned. They hope that speeches in political ceramah in the coming general election will become more sanitised, that opposition politicians will become overcautious in their delivery.
They hope that journalists, bloggers and commentators would become more circumspect when writing on public interest issues. They hope that public will grow more fearful of sharing critical messages, videos and images on social media and instant messaging apps.
They hope that the bill will spell the death knell for satire and parody – for the very definition of such work is that it is at least partly ‘false’.
A clause against those who provide financial assistance to those who commit a ‘fake news’ offence is also worrying. It could mean that those who contribute to crowd-sourcing or fundraising campaigns to help pay fines or damages may also be held liable. It could be used to go after those who pay to subscribe or advertise in news portals or online dailies.
Those pushing for the bill are probably hoping that the overly wide definition of fake news and the heavy penalties – a half a million ringgit fine and 10 years in the slammer – will intimidate the public and rein in those who express dissent. This is exactly what the authorities did with the now defunct and draconian ISA, which was used under the pretext of combating the communist threat, but in reality also used to clamp down on dissent and create a climate of fear.
Given the BN majority and the presence of many unconscionable members of Parliament, the bill is likely to be rammed through Parliament.
But Malaysians must not be intimidated by this bill. They must oppose this draconian bill every step of the way. Even if the bill is passed, we must campaign tirelessly and ceaselessly for its repeal just as we did with the ISA.
We must also vow to teach those backing this bill – and others who may have similar authoritarian tendencies in the future – a decisive lesson at the polls they will never forget.
Aliran executive committee
27 March 2018