Is new fake news law meant to silence politicians, asks Umno man

Umno Supreme Council member Mohd Razlan Rafii has questioned Putrajaya whether the new fake news law related to Covid-19 and the state of emergency was to silence politicians and prevent them from debating current issues.

(FMT) – He said a law to control fake news related to the Covid-19 pandemic was understandable as health was important.

“However, why can’t we talk about other current issues? Is it to shut up politicians? Are they trying to curb healthy discussions?” he asked.

The ordinance, which takes effect today, applies to all media forms “capable of suggesting words or ideas”, such as news features, videos and audio material.

The emergency law does not need parliamentary approval.

Razlan told FMT the new ordinance “seems to give sweeping powers to the government”.

Asking what constituted “fake news”, he said: “The law remains grey and we (in Umno) are afraid it may be abused and misused.”

He said news articles were sometimes written based on information provided by “sources” or materials made viral on Facebook, Tik Tok or Instagram.

“With politicians and individuals commenting on such material, will they be charged? It is too grey an area to explore.

“How would we know if the source or material is fake? We may just be commenting on what has been highlighted.”

He said healthy discussions were crucial in a democracy and people should be able to discuss current issues.

Moreover, he said, the government could use current communications and multimedia laws to charge a person with disrupting harmony.

“The present laws are adequate,” he said.

Effective today, those who create, publish or distribute fake news will face a fine of up to RM100,000, a jail term of up to three years or both under the new emergency ordinance.

Those who pay for the creation of such fake news will face harsher punishment, with fines of up to RM500,000 or a jail term of six years, or both.

The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 defines “fake news” as news or information that “is or are wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the proclamation of emergency”.

In addition, the courts may order those convicted of an offence to apologise to those affected by their actions. Failure to do so may result in another fine of up to RM50,000, a jail term of under a year, or both.

Provisions under the ordinance mirror those in the Anti-Fake News Act, which was repealed in 2019 during the tenure of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.