from the UN-letter-writing-campaign-works dept
Malaysia’s government seized upon the term “fake news” as a way to silence coverage of internal corruption. The new law gave the government a way to steer narratives and control negative coverage, going beyond its already-tight control of local media. It would have worked out well for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was facing a lot of negative coverage over the sudden and unexplained appearance of $700 million in his bank account.
Razak is no longer Prime Minister. His replacement, Mahathir Mohamad, claimed he would abolish the law if elected. Once elected, Mohamad walked back his promise, replacing “abolish” with “modify.” In the meantime, the law had already claimed at least one victim, a Danish national visiting Malaysia who made dubious claims on YouTube about police response time following the shooting of an activist.
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, had already officially complained to Malaysia’s government about its “fake news” law and the damage it would do free speech. The government appeared to have ignored this in favor of protecting itself from free speech. The outgoing prime minister may not have needed this “protection” following his ejection from the public sector, but the new boss seemingly was in no hurry to give up this new power over the press.
Surprise, surprise! David Kaye now reports the Malaysian government is dumping this terrible law, effective almost immediately. In a letter to Kaye, Malaysia’s UN ambassador states the government had reversed course on punishing fake news.
I wish to inform you that the new Government of Malaysia has decided to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018. The process to do so has already begun, and a specific proposal is expected to be tabled during the upcoming Parliamentary session beginning on 16 July 2018.
This may be Prime Minister Mohamad belatedly making good on his campaign promise — one he had broken immediately after taking office by offering to “redefine” the law rather than repeal it. This is good news for Malaysian journalists (as well as Dutch visitors), who may now avoid jail sentences or fines for publishing stuff the government doesn’t agree with.