Malaysia Parliament passes law to scrap anti-fake news Bill again, abolishing it within the year

The Bill will go through the Senate again but can thereafter be automatically passed to the Malaysian King for assent even if it gets blocked by the Senate again, while the King isn't expected to block it.
The Bill will go through the Senate again but can thereafter be automatically passed to the Malaysian King for assent even if it gets blocked by the Senate again, while the King isn't expected to block it.PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian Parliament on Wednesday (Oct 9) voted to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act (AFNA), the second time the Lower House had done so in just 14 months.

The Lower House, which is controlled by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, had attempted to repeal the controversial AFNA - which makes "fake news" a crime - last year.

But Malaysia's Upper House, or the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition Barisan Nasional coalition, had blocked the Bill.

PH had to wait a cooling-off period of a year before it could table the Bill to scrap AFNA again.

On Wednesday evening, the Lower House voted again in favour of repealing the Act.

This time, it has the guarantee of abolishing it within the year, as the Senate cannot block what has been approved by MPs for the second time.

The Bill will go through the Senate again but can thereafter be automatically passed to the Malaysian King for assent even if it gets blocked by the Senate again, while the King isn't expected to block it.

The current King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin of Pahang, has 30 days to consent to new Bills, failing which it would automatically become law at the end of the period.

The repeal of AFNA was one of PH's verbal promises to voters. The Act was bulldozed through by the previous BN government just before the general election in May last year.

 
 
 

The law was widely criticised for its speedy introduction, lack of proper consultation and vague definition of "fake news", which critics say open room for abuse and misinterpretation.

The PH administration's success in repealing the law would likely soothe its liberal supporters.

"PH needs to shore up its core supporters who have drifted away in recent months," said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at Singapore Institute of International Affairs. "To repeal an Act which is much despised by the liberals who are mostly erstwhile PH supporters would hopefully help in doing so."

Meanwhile, former de facto law minister Azalina Othman, who was in charge of drafting and tabling AFNA last year, defended the law as necessary to assist those victimised by falsehoods spread on the Internet.

During the parliamentary debate, Datuk Seri Azalina said existing laws are unable to decrease the amount of fake information shared online, denying that the law was enacted due to political reasons.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said: "Revoking this law was really the only way forward to protect freedom of expression in Malaysia.

"Such anti-fake news laws are just a rebranding of government censorship in a more appealing form, designed to fool people while enabling officials to shut down criticisms they don't like," he added.

PH lawmakers say that current regulations under the Printing Presses and Publication Act, Penal Code and Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act are sufficient to tackle such falsehoods.