Malaysia's anti-fake news Bill up for vote today

Malaysia's anti-fake news Bill can be easily passed in Parliament as it needs only a 112-majority in the 222-member House. PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysian lawmakers are expected to vote today to push through the anti-fake news Bill, a day after lawmakers ramped through a controversial move to redraw election boundaries.

The Bill is one of the items for today's proceeding, with a top official saying lawmakers would vote on it by the end of the day. The anti-fake news Bill was first read in Parliament on Monday by de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said.

She has said that the law is meant to "protect the people from fake news dumping and also from falling victim to fake news".

The Bill can be easily passed in Parliament as it needs only a 112-majority in the 222-member House. The ruling coalition has 131 MPs.

Government MPs yesterday passed new electoral maps for use in the upcoming general election despite angry protests by opposition MPs in Parliament and a demonstration by political activists and lawmakers outside.

The Bill defines fake news as "any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas".

The legislation allows for action against those who reproduce or replicate such content substantially with fines of up to RM500,000 (S$168,000) or imprisonment of up to 10 years or both.

Those who publish "fake news" are to remove such content or face a fine of up to RM100,000, that can grow by up to RM3,000 for each day that the content stays up, after someone has been convicted.

Even those who are financiers to the propagators of "fake news" are liable for punishment.

Critics have questioned the haste to push the legislation through and its harsh punishments.

The RM500,00 fine is 10 times the fine imposed by other existing Malaysian laws governing the spread of false information and more than three times the prison term.

The Bill also allows legal action against those outside Malaysia.

"The drafting of the proposed legislation raises many questions regarding its content, intent and impact," Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said in a statement on Tuesday.

Media groups Wan-Ifra Media Freedom Committee Malaysia and Institute of Journalists Malaysia have also called for the Bill to be withdrawn or redrafted, saying it may stifle the media industry.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2018, with the headline Malaysia's anti-fake news Bill up for vote today. Subscribe