Malaysia repeals Anti-Fake News Act following Senate approval

Following a second bid at repealing the Anti-Fake News Act, the Malaysian government on Thu (19 Dec) has unanimously moved in favour of scrapping the legislation.

The repeal was made following the approval of Dewan Negara — the Senate or Upper House of the nation’s Parliament — following a second reading of the bill on the repeal.

The motion to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act was first passed at the Dewan Rakyat — the Lower House of the Malaysian Parliament — in Aug last year. However, it was rejected by the Dewan Negara.

The Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat on 9 Oct this year after it was re-tabled in the lower house of the Malaysian Parliament. Article 68 of the Federal Constitution grants the Government the authority to table a Bill that was rejected by the Dewan Negara after a cooling-off period of one year.

92 MPs voted in favour of abolishing the Anti-Fake News Act, while 51 voted against it.

Following the approval of the Dewan Negara on Thu, the Bill will now be presented to the King for royal assent. However, the Bill would have been sent to the King regardless of the vote in the Dewan Negara.

Under the Anti-Fake News Act, those found guilty of spreading “fake news” as defined by Malaysian authorities could be jailed for up to six years and fined up to RM500,000 (S$163,637.95).

Bernama reported Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin as saying during the winding up of the debate on the bill that the repeal was in tandem with the government’s commitment to abolish unjust laws, as “freedom is the most precious thing”.

Mohamed Hanipa added that the repeal will ensure that the media will have the freedom necessary to conduct checks and balances on the government’s administration.

He also said that other existing laws are adequate in combating the problem of fake news in the country, and can be amended if found to be ineffective.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo told the Malaysian Parliament earlier this month that his ministry is currently looking into amending Section 223 of the Communications and Multimedia Act next year, which concerns “online comments, requests, suggestions or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

Responding to a supplementary question raised by Jelutong Member of Parliament (MP) R.S.N Rayer in the Dewan Rakyat on 2 Dec, the Minister said that the Government hopes to do so “between March and June next year”.

“We do not want any government, whether this or the next one, to abuse such laws”: Malaysian PM

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Apr had expressed his government’s intention to do away with the Anti-Fake News Act.

Speaking to reporters at the question-and-answer session at a joint press conference with his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in Putrajaya on 9 Apr, he said: “We understand how social media can be abused. For us, that means we have to learn how to handle fake news.

“When you have a law to prevent people from airing views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse it, as has happened in the past … We do not want any government, whether this or the next one, to abuse such laws,” he said, in reference to former premier Najib Razak’s government, the administration that introduced the Anti-Fake News Act just one month before the 14th General Election on 9 May last year.

“It (fake news) may be difficult to handle, but we can accept the challenge and will handle it,” stressed Dr Mahathir.

Anti-Fake News Act, which was passed by Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional government only about a month before the General Election on 9 May last year.

PM Lee, however, defended his government’s rationale behind introducing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in Singapore by stating that many other countries have also implemented laws aimed at curbing the spread of “fake news”.

“It is not just Singapore who is legislating this. France and Germany have done it. Australia introduced something similar and very draconian,” he said.

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