By Bryan Yeoh Quan Jin, International News Writer
On April 3, the Dewan Negara (upper house of the Malaysian Parliament) passed an anti-fake news Bill despite concerns over its potential use to restrict freedom of speech. In an interview with The New Straits Times, Minister in the Prime Minister’s office, Azalina Othman Said stated that no laws formulated and passed in Parliament are meant to impede freedom of speech, as is ensured under the Federal Constitution. She explained that the rapid advance in communications technology necessitates the bill because fake news not only confuses the public but can also threaten the safety, economy, prosperity and well-being of the people and the country.
The public has responded to the tabling and passing of the Bill in both negative and positive lights.
In an interview with The New Straits Times, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Dr Adnan Hussein said while there were concerns that the bill would curtail freedom of speech, it was done to protect the people from becoming victims of misinformation.
Detractors to the Bill argue that the definition of fake news is too broad and needs clearer information. In his column in The Star Malaysia, lawyer Syahredzan Johan opined that the Bill will lead to a culture of fear because the imprecise definition of fake news and certain provisions in the Bill may lead to selective and arbitration implementation and abuse. He suggests that the Malaysian government should withdraw the bill and acquire feedback from the public before moving forward with a Bill with such wide-ranging repercussions.
The Bill has not gone unnoticed internationally. In a statement to Reuters, the U.S. State Department stated their concerns with the Bill’s potential impact on freedom of expression in Malaysia, as well as its global reach, which could affect U.S. citizens and companies. Similar to Johan’s suggestions, the State Department urged the Malaysian government to obtain feedback from the business community and civil society before taking further action.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 10th print edition.
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