Anti-fake news law is another attack on all of us - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Malaysiakini : "The actions of the two reporters may have hurt the feelings of
the people but I was satisfied that they did not intend to offend
anyone. It was an act of sheer ignorance." - Attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail
COMMENT | Here is an example of the fabrication and dissemination of fake news and how the Umno hegemon deals with it. Eight years ago, journalists from the Al-Islam magazine went
undercover in the Catholic Church, took Holy Communion and then spat
out the communion wafers, the photos of which they published in their
magazine. Why did they do this? Because they heard “reports” that the church was converting Muslims.
How did the Umno state deal with these purveyors of fake news? They
did not do anything. Charges were dropped and the magazine apologised
for any distress caused. “The journalists said they had found no
evidence of the illegal conversion of Muslims.” And what of the press? How does the Umno hegemon handle fake news
when it comes from the press? Well, this what a self-defined Umno’s
mouthpiece said of the role of the media six years ago in a forum - “In
our style of writing, we have facts, spin and one more - blatant lies.
From the point of psychological warfare, let’s not follow ‘blatant
lies’, let’s not write lies. Spin we can; no matter how we spin a
certain fact to be biased in our favour, that’s okay,” saidUtusan Malaysia editor Mohd Zaini Hassan.
Fellow forum panellist, meanwhile, used Islam to justify deceptions
against the opposition. Umno young ulama secretariat Fathul Bari Mat
Jahaya rationalised this by “citing how Prophet Muhammad had used deception to fight his enemy.” I have been getting calls and messages asking me what I thought about
this proposed anti-fake news bill. I just do not see the big deal. What
this proposed bill does is makes it easier for the Umno state to
control the narrative, scare the crap out of some people and allow for a
certain amount of hand-wringing by a certain section of the general
The greater danger that the government made into law was the National
Security Council (NSC) Act, but not many people showed any interest in
that. This proposed bill is just another in a long line of clumsy
efforts by a government in jeopardy because of its ineptitude and
pecuniary scandals. What the Umno state has done is just another attempt to define what
is fake. They do this with religion. They do this with race. They do
this with myriad other issues and policies that affect us as a society.
This is nothing new.
In fact, I do not think that this has much to do with the press in
the boarder sense. I think this proposed bill is aimed at the average
citizen. To restrict the flow of information. To stop people from using
social media to ferment and encourage dissent. People spread crap that
they know is false all the time and when it comes to partisan politics,
there is a whole lot of horse manure to spread around. What this bill is supposed to do is put the fear of god into people
so they would think twice about disseminating news that they think will
get them into trouble. So, if it something that puts the government in a
bad light even if it’s true, people would think that they would be a
target of state intervention.
And you know what, they could be with this new law. Indeed, the state
does not need this law to put its boot on the neck of anyone it wants
to. This is Fear Tactics 101.
Will the people be cowed?
How many times has Malaysiakini been raided? How many times
have opposition political personalities sued the mainstream media for
libel and won? How many times has the establishment sued alternative
media outlets for libel and won? There has always been a somewhat robust application of laws that
restricts certain kinds of speeches and the usual state clampdown on
what it perceives as “fake news”. The quote that opens this piece was
used to justify non-intervention. But there have been some cases where people have been found guilty of spreading fake news in Malaysia, two come to mind:
1. “A former religious teacher and a housewife who disseminated
fake news via their Facebook account regarding the halal and non-halal
frozen meat, which were purportedly found stored together in a
container, were fined RM2,000 each by the Sessions Court today.” 2. A teacher has become the first person in Malaysia to be charged in court for spreading false information through WhatsApp.
“Rafeah Buang, 36, pleaded not guilty
before judge Awang Krisnada Awang Mahmud at the Tawau Sessions Court
today on a charge of knowingly making and initiating false
communications via WhatsApp with the intention of annoying others three
years ago.” Does it make me a traitor to freedom of speech because I think they
got what they deserved? Probably. The real reason for this proposed bill
is to make the average citizen reconsider what he or she is spreading
around. This is all about self-censorship and how the state literally
wants you to enforce its definition of what fake news is.
But why act surprised? There are many partisans in the alternative
media who want to silence dissenting views and they want certain media
outlets of their choice to enforce this or they threaten to cancel their
subscriptions. The real question, is will people be cowed? Will news
organisations cave in to the threats from the state – and by news
organisations I mean, organisations that do not have the protection of
Ultimately, what this proposed bill does is demonstrate how weak the
government is. After all, there are numerous laws in play – restrictive
laws – that the government could use to silence dissent. What this law attempts to do is make the average citizen of this country complicit in their own subjugation.
I do not know about anyone else, but I am going to continue doing
what I do, and the Umno state will continue doing what it does.