Sunday, August 1, 2021

New law to combat Covid fake news subject to tedious process, says Putrajaya

Ministers say the move is to ensure the success of the government's battle against the pandemic.

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Putrajaya today fought off allegations that a new emergency ordinance against the dissemination of fake news is draconian and designed to curb freedom of speech.

It said the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No 2) Ordinance 2021 which was gazetted today is only applicable during the current emergency, and limited to matters pertaining to information on Covid-19 and the emergency proclamation.

Minister in charge of law Takiyuddin Hassan and Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, in a joint press conference to explain the new law, said the move was to ensure the success of the government’s battle against the pandemic.

“Freedom of speech is not freedom to lie,” Saifuddin said, adding that repeated campaigns to fight fake news related to Covid-19 with arguments and explanations to the public had proven futile.

“We have always been denying fake news. There is no end to it.

“We don’t want the immunisation programme to fail.

“We have been verifying (news) since last year, and it (fake news) is still going on.”

Takiyuddin said the ordinance clearly states that it is specifically designed to deal with false news on Covid-19 and the emergency declaration.

He also took to task media reports and statements suggesting that those accused of spreading fake news would be fined RM100,000.

He said enforcement of the new law will be a tedious matter, adding that RM100,000 is the maximum fine and subject to conviction only after a lengthy legal process.

He said complaints on fake news could be made by either government agencies or members of the public. This would be followed by an investigation by a group of officers with expertise in health and security.

“If the officers feel there is no case, the complaint will be thrown out.

“But if there is a case, the officers will have to issue an official denial of the (fake) news, followed by a probe by police and the MCMC,” said Takiyuddin.

Saifuddin said the new law would be a deterrent against efforts to undermine the war against Covid-19.

He said some critics were “overstretching” their argument by saying the new law is a sign of Malaysia becoming like Myanmar.

“We are a very reasonable and functioning government. Our interest is in fighting Covid-19 and we will do whatever it takes.

“But as much as all that, we take cognisance of the fact that we have to be fair.

“My plea to the people is to give us a chance, and see if we can in many ways control fake news.”

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