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Saturday, March 31, 2018

We are not Germany, say lawyers over Anti-Fake News Bill

March 31, 2018
Soo Wern Jun
PETALING JAYA: A human rights lawyer has dismissed the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018, saying it does not address the problem of fake news beyond imposing a stiffer penalty.

New Sin Yew said apart from increasing the punishment for fake news, the proposed law did not add any value to existing legislation like the Penal Code, the Sedition Act 1948 and the Defamation Act 1957.

“We definitely have enough legislation in place to deal with false reports or information that is being circulated.

“There is too much duplicity in legislation. The anti-fake news bill doesn’t change much in terms of prosecution because it still requires the cases to be referred to the courts.

“The problem with going to court is that it is a slow and costly process. The Defamation Act has this problem, so does the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998,” he said.

There is also the issue of deciding what is true, as courts can only rule based on the evidence available.

“The problem is, no one has a monopoly on the truth,” New said.

“Fake news is a problem, but how the government is dealing with it is too feudal. They are not dealing with the root of the problem. This is just a bad attempt at trying to prevent what is actually a problem.”

When asked how the situation in Malaysia compared to other countries with anti-fake news laws such as Germany, New said the situations were different.

“In Germany, the government imposes an obligation on social media owners to deal with publications which are false. After a certain amount of complaints are received by the social media owner, the company has to deal with it.

“The (German) government also empowers social media sites and communities to deal with fake news, but that is absent here.”

New added that stifling freedom of speech and expression was counterproductive to what the government was trying to achieve by tabling the anti-fake news bill.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen told FMT that in Germany, the situation was totally different as the law required social media networks to remove hate speech and illegal materials.

“The context is different. In Germany there was a fake news campaign of hatred against migrants and asylum seekers, accusing them of rape which turned out to be false.

“Further, in Germany, France and the US, there is a sophisticated campaign by state-sponsored entities and by Russia to spread misinformation, thus subverting their democracies.

“None of these situations apply in Malaysia, and if there is any misinformation out there, the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission are fully empowered to act under existing laws.”

Paulsen also drew a comparison to French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Jan 3 announced his plans for a new law to combat fake news and “propaganda” on social media.

Having been a victim of fake news during last year’s election, Macron reportedly said the new law would allow for a new emergency action to be taken against fake news during the election period, which would empower a judge to delete content, close a user’s account or block access to a website.

“The difference is, Macron is a real victim. In Malaysia, the government will use the ill-defined law (anti-fake news bill) to target unfavourable news, accusing them of being fake.

“Authorities are fully empowered to act, arrest, remand, seize mobile phones and computers, and even charge someone in court.

“Then they will say, let the court decide, as though that is a fair thing.”

Prior to Germany’s September 2017 election, the government on June 30 passed the Net Enforcement Act (NetzDG), a law which largely focuses on hate speech and fake news.

The NetzDG is aimed at “unlawful content” relating to offences such as making public falsified information or untrue assertions of facts that may seriously prejudice Germany’s external security or diplomatic relationships.

It requires major social media network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to have a procedure to remove or block access to obviously unlawful content within 24 hours of a complaint, or within seven days for all unlawful content, subject to certain situations.

Malaysia’s Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 was tabled in Parliament on Monday.

Under the proposed law, it will be an offence to create, offer, publish, distribute, circulate or disseminate fake news.

It is also an offence to directly or indirectly provide financial assistance to facilitate the spread of fake news or to abet the offence.

The bill describes fake news as any news, information, data or report, which is wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals, audio recordings or any other form, capable of suggesting words or ideas.

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