Will fake news law apply to foreign media too, asks MP

Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh asks if the fake news bill is to shut out criticism of sensitive matters ahead of GE14.

PETALING JAYA: Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh wants to know if the fake news bill to be tabled in Parliament will also apply to foreign media following a deputy minister’s statement that any news on 1MDB not recognised by the authorities will be considered false.

Ramkarpal said there had been numerous cases of “severe criticism” by foreign media of the state fund, but noted that Prime Minister Najib Razak had not taken any legal action against them.

“Will the government seek the assistance of Interpol to arrest the authors of damning articles in publications such as The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and The Economist abroad to face charges here under the said new act?” he said in a statement today.

Yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said said the bill had been approved by the cabinet with a first reading scheduled for next week.

She said the bill targeted several offences relating to the spread of fake news and outlined measures to curb the issue.

Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Jailani Johari meanwhile said 1MDB had been investigated by the police and the attorney-general, with reports presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“The process of rationalisation has also been implemented well.

“As such, the government views that other than the information that has been verified by the government, all other information is deemed as fake news,” he added.

Ramkarpal said there was no doubt that fake news was a serious menace that needed urgent action. However, he also questioned the motive behind the move to table the bill.

He said Jailani should realise that the findings of the authorities mentioned could not be taken as conclusive as some were not binding conclusions based on evidence tested in a court of law.

“As such, the said findings cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that certain criticisms of 1MDB which are not recognised by the said authorities are fake.”

Given the government’s failure so far to act against the foreign media, he added, it was almost certain that no action would be taken against them under the new act.

“It is likely that the purpose of the said new act is highly suspect and merely to shut out criticism of 1MDB, or for that matter, any other sensitive matters in the run-up to the 14th general election,” he said.

In 2016, opposition politicians challenged Najib to file a suit against WSJ over its reports on a trail of financial transactions leading to a deposit of US$600 million in his personal bank accounts in 2013.

Najib denied that the money came from 1MDB, saying it was a personal donation from a member of the Saudi royal family. The government meanwhile said that most of the money had been returned.

The issue has also been covered by the BBC and CNN, Bloomberg and the New York Times among others.

Cabinet gives nod to Anti-Fake News Bill