Some fake information related to the coronavirus pandemic has been circulating through the media, including social media, at a time when the people need accurate information to calm their nerves.
This is why the government is concerned that such information could create more anxiety, panic and confusion among the people – which is the last thing we want now.
Aliran appreciates that the government is taking measures to curb distorted information. But we are troubled by the way it proposes to overcome this problem, which can eventually lead to the undemocratic practice of censoring fair and critical comments.
We now learn that the official definition of “fake news” has been widened to even criminalise legitimate criticisms of the government and its policies.
We take issue especially with the government’s attempt to punish those whose criticisms are deemed to have caused “distrust in the ruling government”.
When a government, more so one that is deemed by many as a “backdoor government”, makes a conflicting decision that causes confusion and unnecessary inconvenience, it stands the risk of earning the distrust of the rakyat.
The recent government ruling to allow barbers to operate is a case in point. Would critics and barbers’ associations, which are concerned with the physical proximity between barbers and clients, be hauled up by the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission?
Similarly, would concerned Malaysians be blamed if they called out ministers whose behaviour only invited brickbats, such as in the Doraemon, TikTok and warm water remedy cases?
In defining “fake news”, the government warns against news and comments that could “lower the reputation of an individual, organisation and country”. So what do we do with the ministers of Doraemon, TikTok and warm-water fame who have done a splendid job of lowering not only their professional reputations but also the government’s and the nation’s. Think of how their antics have turned us into the laughing stock of the world.
The government could deal with any fake news or information by quickly coming out with clarifications that could be disseminated to news portals and over social media.
Resorting to censorship, especially in its extreme form, in a time of crisis reflects the insecurity of the government of the day.
Rather we should be upholding public scrutiny and the democratic checks and balances, including over the media, during this difficult period.
Aliran executive committee
12 April 2020