Media groups express concern over Putrajaya’s new Ordinance on Covid-19, Emergency proclamation fake news

Yiswaree Palansamy
·5-min read
According to the gazette, ‘fake news’ includes any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the proclamation of Emergency, whether in the forms of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas. — Picture by Hari Anggara
According to the gazette, ‘fake news’ includes any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the proclamation of Emergency, whether in the forms of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Two media groups today expressed concern over the government’s new Ordinance criminalising individuals who create or publish fake news on Covid-19 or the Emergency proclamation, worrying about the possibility of paper abuse using the new provision.

A check on the e-Federal Gazette today revealed that individuals who create or publish fake news on Covid-19 or the Emergency proclamation could now face a fine of up to RM100,000 and imprisonment from tomorrow onwards.

Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) said its concern hinged on the fact that these new restrictions were not drafted by elected parliamentarians through a Dewan Rakyat sitting.

“On the surface, the regulations may appear to be agreeable, however with no clear definition of ‘fake news’, we are concerned over possible abuse that may arise as a consequence.

“The gazetting of this law also appears to be controversial, taking into account dispute over the need to declare an emergency in times of uncertainties surrounding majority status of the ruling government.

“Geramm therefore calls for all the laws as gazetted under the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 dated March 11, which takes effect tomorrow, to not be used as a tool to silence, pressure or bully parties with an opposing view,” it added.

Geramm said that the situation also poses an added difficulty for the media to carry out a check and balance function, if the law is abused to protect certain parties.

According to the gazette, “fake news” includes any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the proclamation of Emergency, whether in the forms of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.

As for the interpretation of “publication”, the Ordinance states this includes any published copy, including in digital form, as well as subsequent reproductions.

“We reiterate our stand as previously declared in our call against the repealed Anti-Fake News Act 2018, to fight fake news with facts, not Acts.

“Among others, we have consistently supported any form of fact checking initiatives, particularly in the current times the pandemic which have seen confusion that arises from sharing inaccurate information,” it added.

Similar sentiments were also shared by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

In a statement, its executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said that the media watchdog is “deeply shocked and appalled” by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s decision, urging the government to stop using the Emergency Proclamation to stifle any criticism of the current administration.

She lamented that without the necessary parliamentary checks and balances, the unfettered powers given to the current administration under the Emergency Proclamation and the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021, foretells the continued attempts by the government to use any means it deems fit to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms.

Wathshlah felt that the government is also attempting to reintroduce provisions from the defunct Anti-Fake News Act 2018, which was repealed by the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

“What is equally alarming is the opportunistic nature of the current government, under the guise of an emergency, to re-introduce specific elements of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, which was repealed by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. “Fake news” is not clearly defined in the law, opening the real possibilities of abuse through arbitrary arrests, investigations and punitive actions being taken against the alleged offender.

“We anticipate further surveillances and invasions of our privacy, arbitrary censorships of critical and dissenting media reports, and thus, attacks on media freedom, and disproportionate crackdowns on legitimate speech such as dissent and misinformation.

“The arbitrary use of this ordinance will go against the fundamental norms of freedom of expression and speech as enshrined in our Federal Constitution and international standards, which clearly stipulate that the public has the right to know, seek and receive, as well as to impart ideas and information of all kinds,” she added, also calling on the government to immediately withdraw the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021.

The Ordinance also said parties who directly or indirectly provide financial assistance intending it to be used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of an offence to be liable for a fine not exceeding RM500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years or to both.

In addition, the Ordinance also indemnified the federal government or any authorised personnel from lawsuits and legal proceedings under Section 27 in enforcing the provisions of the Ordinance.

“No action, suit, prosecution or any other proceeding shall lie or be brought, instituted or maintained in any court against the Government of Malaysia, or any police officer or authorised officer, in respect of any act, neglect or default done or omitted by it or him in good faith, in carrying out the provision of this Ordinance,” the gazette stated.

As for companies involved in violation of the Ordinance, Section 25 states that the company’s representative could also be charged in court for an offence.

Section 25(a) of the Ordinance reads:

“If a body corporate commits an offence under this Act, any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was a director, chief executive officer, chief operating officer, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate may be charged severally or jointly in the same proceedings with the body corporate,” it reads.

The Ordinance also includes an “extra-territorial application”, which will allow the authorities to prosecute any individual — both Malaysian and non-Malaysian — if an offence is committed outside of Malaysia as if the offence was committed in any place within the country.

On enforcement, the Ordinance also empowers a police officer or an authorised officer conducting a search to be given access to computerised data whether stored in a computer or otherwise under Section 19(1).

Related Articles Fake news law is government’s attempt to silence voice of every citizen — National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia Ordinance combating ‘fake news’ clamps down on freedom of expression — IDEAS Federal Gazette: From tomorrow, those who spread fake news on Covid-19 or Emergency face RM100,000 fine, jail time