The proposed laws to curb fake news will apply to all and is not confined to just politics, said Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.
Salleh said that there was recently an increase in fake news and that there was a need to clamp down on it.
“If what is being spread is not fake news then why the need for concern? The laws are to protect victims of fake news who should be offered justice as well,” he said in a blog post titled “Disinformation and fake news is a threat to democracy.”
Opposition leaders had expressed concerns that the new laws would overreach and be used as a tool to hide the truth.
Salleh responded by saying that even the Western world is beginning to relook at freedom of speech and now regards disinformation and fake news as a threat to democracy.
He said that Britain, considered to be the bastion of democracy and free speech, is also mulling new laws to combat the problem of people abusing freedom of speech.
“Democracy and freedom of speech need to be protected from disinformation and fake news. So we need to uphold its sanctity by clamping down on the abuse of freedom of speech by those who spread disinformation and fake news,” Salleh said.
According to rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, Malaysia has cracked down heavily on activists and opposition politicians since the 1mdb scandal engulfed the Najib Razak government.
“Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib has gone to great lengths over the past year to stifle critical commentary of his government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW. “The fear of further repression against activists will only increase as the 2018 elections approach.”
A HRW statement added that Najib’s government has “repeatedly used the Communications and Multimedia Act to investigate and prosecute those who criticized government officials on social media.”
“Among those prosecuted were top staff of the online news portal Malaysiakiniover a video criticizing the attorney-general for clearing the prime minister of corruption allegations,” the HRW statement continued.
Malaysia ranked 144 in Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index placing it between Gambia and South Sudan.