Malaysia has proposed a law to penalise “fake news” with hefty fines and up to 10 years in prison, amid concerns that such a legislation could be misused. The government tabled the Anti-Fake News bill in Parliament on Monday.
The bill proposes fines of up to 500,000 ringgits (Rs 83 lakh) or both the fine and the jail term. The government said the law seeks to “safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news” and could make the public more responsible in sharing news and information, Reuters reported.
The bill defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false”. This could include blogs, features, visuals and audio clips published on digital publications or social media. The law would also apply to offenders outside the country if news or information shared by them affected Malaysians.
The Opposition has called the proposed law an “attack on the press” and an “attempt to instill fear” ahead of elections in the country. “Those who say that journalists have nothing to fear from the Anti-Fake News bill as long as they report accurately is clearly missing the point...the point of such a law IS to prosecute truth tellers by labelling them as purveyors of fake news,” Opposition lawmaker Ong Kian Ming wrote on Twitter.
Rights group Amnesty International called for the bill to be scrapped immediately, calling it “a blatant attempt to shield the government from peaceful criticism”. The organisation cited the “vague and broad definition of fake news”.