Zaid: Use existing laws, no need for new law on ‘fake news’

zaid-ibrahim-fake-news-malaysia-1PETALING JAYA: In a biting commentary, entitled “Another law to imprison us?”, on his blog today, Zaid Ibrahim questioned the need for any new law to curtail the spread of “fake news”.

Pointing out that existing laws already cover any spread of “malicious and dangerous” statements, the former minister said any new law may end up punishing citizens who are only giving their views.

“There are already criminal provisions in the Penal Code to take care of malicious and dangerous statements made by irresponsible people who are out to create trouble that will affect public order.

“So, what more do they want? Why are we punishing citizens who give their views about matters that are of concern to them even if they hurt the feelings of the leaders.

“If you do not want your feelings hurt, why go into politics?” Zaid said, alluding to how some laws have recently been used against acts deemed insulting to the nation’s leaders.

Zaid then cited the Sessions Court ruling today which found graphic artist Fahmi Reza guilty under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for his satirical poster depicting Najib with a clown face.

Under the Act, Fahmi was found to have spread online content deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

Fahmi was slapped with a one-month jail sentence and a fine of RM30,000.

“Fahmi Reza has to go to jail because he upset ‘some people’, but what about people who are upset with the leaders?

“It’s impossible to know what upsets the prime minister, or what ‘fake news’ means,” Zaid said.

National security

Earlier this month, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said said a draft of the proposed law to curb “fake news” would be sent to the cabinet for opinions before being sent to the Dewan Rakyat next month.

“A bit of the new law is present in the Penal Code, a bit in the Computer Crime Act 1997 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998,” she said, adding that the law was necessary to ensure national security could continue to be preserved.

She defended the need for the new law, saying it would make members of the public more responsible when it comes to churning out, spreading or sharing unconfirmed news.

Zaid lamented the lack of transparency by the government over the proposed law on “fake news”.

“No one has seen the draft of the proposed law but BN leaders talk about the new law all the time.

“At the same time, they talk about enhancing the sentences currently under Section 233 of MCMC Act.

“BN does not seem satisfied that under the existing Section 233 of the MACC Act, Malaysians who make public speeches during the election, who post their comments or send tweets that displease the government, can end up in jail, like what has happened to Fahmi Reza for sketching a clown,” he said.