Putrajaya pledges crackdown on fake news after Tabung Haji-linked lies, slander

Danial Dzulkifly
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin speaks during a media conference on fake news in Putrajaya February 21, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 21 — Putrajaya announced today that it will continue its stern stance against purveyors of fake news in order to maintain civil order and social harmony, following the myriad of fake posts involving its handling of pilgrimage fund Lembaga Tabung Haji.

Deputy minister in charge of law Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said the full extent of the law will be utilised to prosecute those who spread “outright lies and slander” against the government or spreading misinformation intending to create social disharmony. 

“Since we became the government, we welcome the democratic space for all to criticise the government but unfortunately, we notice a tendency of people that misuses that space to spread slander and fake news, even touching on racial and religious matters,” he told reporters here.

“This creates an uneasiness among the masses and can lead to an untoward situation. 

“Most recently is the issue where people had viral a post where Finance Minister was slandered to chair a meeting related to Tabung Haji,” he explained. 

“So, this creates an uneasiness among Muslims and the Malay community. This is such an irresponsible act,’’ he said, adding that he was made to understand that an indictment will be made against the parties responsible. 

Yesterday, the office of minister in charge of religious affairs Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa was forced to clarify that the photo was of his team paying a working visit to Lim Guang Eng to explain the concept of Rahmatan Lil’Alamin (blessings to all). 

Hanipa also mentioned another fake news, where he alleged that a PAS leader had falsely stated that DAP veteran lawmaker Lim Kit Siang intended to do away the Bumiputera status in one of his speeches in 1969. 

Hanipa explained that the government views such matter seriously and that it will form a special task force consisting of the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the police to locate and prosecute purveyors of fake news. 

“Let me be very clear, we are not against freedom of speech or criticism towards the government, no matter how harsh the criticism may be. The public are well within their rights to do so however what we cannot tolerate is outright lies and slander,’’ he said. 

Hanipa stressed that Putrajaya does not intend to introduce new laws or bring back the repealed Anti-Fake News Act to contain the spread of fake news but insist that existing laws under the Penal Code and the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 is enough. 

Also present at the press conference today was Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Eddin Syazlee Shith who further explained that the rise of fake news surrounding the pandemic outbreak of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) was the tipping point for the government, leading to the creation of a special task force responsible of locating and prosecuting purveyors of fake news. 

“Today marks a turning point by the government in taking a sterner approach in dealing with fake news because we observe when too much space and openness is given by the government to the public, there are some, those who we believe are cyber troopers, that had acted out of bounds by setting aside national unity and stability and abuse the freedom that has been given,’’ he said. 

According to official data by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, from February 2019 to February 2020, 62 investigations have been carried out on fake news, with eight convictions. 

This however is not included on fake news cases involving Covid-19, where 12 people have been charged for such offences so far. 

When pressed whether the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration would draw parallel with the previous Barisan Nasional government for their harsh stance against fake news, Hanipa denied such assertion. 

“It is a huge difference. Last time you do not have such freedom, the fact that you can criticise [the government], the last time you can’t even criticise.

“You can’t even ask the 1MBD matters in parliament, now you can ask any question in parliament. There is a huge difference from the old regime compared to the government today,’’ he said. 

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