The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance, which takes effect today, gives the government sweeping powers purportedly to curb “fake news” on Covid-19 and the ongoing emergency rule.
Aliran is concerned that the definition of fake news is so broad and vague, that enforcement of the ordinance could lead to abuse.
This piece of legislation will also have a chilling effect on press freedom and freedom of expression, eroding further our democracy.
People found guilty of spreading “fake news” in writing, videos, audio recordings or any other forms that may convey “words or ideas” will face action.
The penalty for the violation of this law is heavy-handed and alarming: a fine of up to RM100,000 or a prison term of up to three years or both. For a continuing offence, a further fine of up to RM1,000 per day will be imposed for each day the offence continues after conviction.
While many of us are equally concerned about “fake news” that could lead to public confusion or restlessness, what is fake news must be spelled out clearly so that the law does not unjustly criminalise or penalise genuine concern or criticism of, say, the way the pandemic is being handled.
The government ought to address concerns about fake news in a way that befits our democratic way of life. It should engage in dialogue or respond in a civilised manner.
Existing laws could easily handle any attempt to create public alarm or unrest.
To frighten people with such punitive legislation would only create a disconnect between the government and the people. It would muzzle the people while those in government would live in a cocoon.
Aliran executive committee
12 March 2021