Malaysian communications minister says fake news law not meant to silence debate on 1MDB

Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh added there was "nothing to stop anyone" from debating or talking about the issue surrounding the 1MDB state investment fund. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Minister on Wednesday (March 28) rejected allegations that the country's new fake news law is aimed at silencing debate regarding the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue, saying such claims were not true, the official Bernama news agency reported.

The government on Monday proposed a law to combat fake news, with penalties that can result in a fine of up to RM500,000 (S$169,484) or a jail term of up to 10 years, a move which critics said was aimed at stifling dissent.

Datuk Seri Salleh said there was "nothing to stop anyone" from debating or talking about the 1MDB state investment fund.

"The issue is when someone starts spreading 'news' and 'facts' which are false. For example, we keep hearing 'news' that RM 42 billion (S$14.3 billion) of 1MDB's money has 'disappeared' into thin air, when this has been officially explained and proven false," he wrote ina blog post.

The minister said the bigger issue was to deal with the irresponsible spread of such fake 'news' and 'facts', "which applies to many other situations in our lives'".

"When a lie is repeated too many times, people can believe it to be true. This is the disease of fake news which affects the world globally, not just Malaysia," he said.

The minister explained that the truth was not subjective, and has to be precise and backed with evidence, which is verified to be true.

"If not, it would be mere claims and allegation, with nothing proven. Everyone should understand this concept, so that they would not be easily misled by 'fake news'," he said.

Salleh said it was surprising that some Malaysians appeared to be ignorant of the basic rule of law, where the burden of proof is always on the person who puts the claim or allegation, and the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

"If you claim something, then you have to prove it to be true. You have to show your evidence, which needs to be verified for truth and authenticity," he said.

His deputy, Datuk Jailani Johari, had said last week any report about the scandal-plagued fund that was not verified by the government was fake news.

Separately, a petition against the proposed fake news law has been put up by non-profit organisation Aliran on the petition website The Action Network, the Malaysian Insight website reported.

The group's petition to drop the anti-fake news Bill, which it calls "repressive", has gained 6,650 signatures as of 1.30pm on Wednesday.

"The Bill has severe implications for freedom of speech, democracy and human rights in the country," Aliran president Dr Prema Devaraj said.

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