Towards a fake generation

The Anti-Fake News Bill, 2018 was debated in Parliament on Thursday and is scheduled to continue on Monday after which, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dato’ Sri Azalina binti Othman Said is expected to respond to various questions raised in the said debate before the said Bill is put to a vote.

It is no secret that the said Bill is strongly opposed by the opposition but it should not be thought that only the opposition has an issue with it as other independent bodies have voiced similar concerns and reservations over it as well.

After severely criticising the said Bill, SUHAKAM concluded the following in a statement released just before the said Bill was debated,

“SUHAKAM strongly suggests that a parliamentary committee be set up to consider plausible measures to address the issue of fake news, and to avoid confusion among the public given that Malaysia has already many laws to address forms of hate speech and/or unlawful content which are found in the Penal Code, Sedition Act, Printing Presses and Publication Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act, among others.”

Executive Director of the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) is reported to have complained that,

“the arbitrariness of the definition of ‘fake news’ is repugnant to the rule of law, and with the bill empowering only the attorney-general to prosecute, it promotes greater impunity. It is a crushing blow for civic spaces and investigative journalism in this country.”

Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong also voiced concern when he observed,

“US President Donald Trump’s “fake news” mantra has inspired authoritarian leaders elsewhere to manufacture new laws that can both target legitimate media outlets that are critical of them and further violate the media’s ability to exercise freedom of expression.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) went for the jugular saying,

“Malaysia’s fake news bill is a blatant attempt by the government to prevent any and all news that it doesn’t like, whether about corruption or elections. The proposed law uses draconian penalties and broad language in an audacious and unprecedented effort to control discussion of Malaysia worldwide.”

London think tank Asia Pacific at Chatham House also weighed in on the matter declaring,

“The danger is that this new bill, without stronger legal definitions and clearer safeguards, is just another tool for the Malaysian authorities to drag any critical comments under the rubric of fake news.”

The Washington Post did not mince words in its assessment of the said Bill saying,

“The Malaysian proposal looks more like a tool of arbitrary government control and intimidation.”

The latest to have joined the chorus of dissatisfaction over the Bill (at the time of writing) is none other than the Prime Minister’s brother Nazir Razak who said in an Instagram posting that the said Bill ought not to be rushed and should be carefully considered as,

“This is about basic rights of individual expression, and instilling fear of such draconian punishment based on ambiguous definitions will retard our society.”

The proposed Anti-Fake News Act (if and when it becomes law) imposes severe “draconian” (to borrow the term used by Nazir) penalties ranging from a maximum fine of RM500,000.00 to imprisonment of six years for, amongst others, maliciously circulating or disseminating fake news or publication containing fake news”, the definition of which (as provided for in the said Act) includes “any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

The word “maliciously” in the said Act above is in fact a replacement for the word “knowingly” which was originally intended to be a part of the offence created under the said Act. In other words, an offence under the said Act is said to have been committed regardless of whether an offender knew what he published or republished was fake news as long as it can be shown that such publication or republication was done maliciously on his part.

What constitutes “malice” is not defined in the said Act which raises valid concerns as to its application.

For instance, would a Pakatan supporter who shares an article produced by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that is critical of the Prime Minister and the Barisan Nasional government on his Facebook page be considered to have acted maliciously?

In the absence of a clear definition of what amounts to malice in the said Act, a judge who is a staunch Barisan Nasional supporter might think so but not necessarily a judge who is sympathetic with the Pakatan cause as the question would be a purely subjective one.

What if a person claims that he had no idea that the contents of the said WSJ article was fake? What if he strongly thought its contents were true before he shared it on Twitter?

Since knowledge has been removed as a prerequisite of the offence of creating and/or publishing fake news under the said Act, it is irrelevant if a person truly believed what he shared on Facebook or Twitter was true.

As such, it matters not if you believe US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions when he said the 1MDB scandal was “kleptocracy at its worst” or his predecessor Loretta Lynch’s claim that “a number of corrupt 1MDB officials treated this public trust as a personal bank account to satisfy their astonishing greed”.

Most of all, don’t even think of sharing WSJ’s many articles which claim that the Prime Minister might be implicated in the 1MDB scandal on social media as our Attorney-General, Tan Sri Apandi Ali had cleared the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing in relation to the 1MDB scandal in January, 2016.

You are all wrong to even think for a moment that the claims of the personalities referred to above are anywhere near true or implicate the Prime Minister in any way because our A-G has absolved the Prime Minister of any such wrongdoing which suggests such international reports are false.

Who are we to think otherwise? After all, the Government knows best right?

Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Jailani Johari seems to think so as was evident in a recent statement of his that any news related to 1MDB which is not recognized by the authorities would be considered fake news (“1MDB news not recognised by govt is fake news, says minister”, The Malaysian Insight, 21.3.2018).

In light of the above, it is hard to believe that our Prime Minister once said, not too long ago, that the days of “the Government knows best” are over!

Furthermore, Apandi could not have been wrong in clearing Najib because if he was, he would be guilty of spreading fake news. Since section 11 of the said new Act requires the A-G to consent in writing to any prosecution under the said Act, Apandi would have to consent to prosecute himself under same if his said clearing of Najib was based on fake news. Surely, nobody in their right mind would think Apandi would do this which means he must have been speaking the truth when he cleared Najib never mind if the rest of the world thinks otherwise right?

So, let’s start with taking steps to get the main author of the article in the WSJ that started this whole drama, ‘Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal’ arrested. His name is Tom Wright and I understand he is based in Hong Kong. He must be one of the biggest purveyors of fake news who must be put behind bars at all costs together with those responsible to have bestowed on him an award at the Society of Publishers in Asia (Sopa) Awards 2016 as Journalist of the Year for exposing the 1MDB scandal in the said article.

How could they have done such a thing?

It is unthinkable for Wright and company to have suggested that according to investigators, substantial 1MDB funds are believed to have ended up in Najib’s accounts as 1MDB CEO, Arul Kanda recently confirmed that 1MDB never paid a cent to the private accounts of the Prime Minister.

Of course owing to his tight schedule in running the country, it is understandable that the Prime Minister has not had the time since 2016 to sue WSJ and Tom Wright for such reckless claims. I have no doubt that if he did, Arul would be up there on his list of witnesses to testify on oath in Court that 1MDB money never went into Najib’s accounts which would demolish and shut WSJ up for good.

Arul should seriously consider convincing Najib to sue these WSJ rascals once and for all since he (Arul) possesses the necessary information to do so. He would certainly be doing the country a favour if he did as we are sick and fed up with all the lies being spewed the world over by these irresponsible parties.

While we are at it, why not get our chaps from Bukit Aman, since they seem to have so much free time on their hands, to also pay a visit to the author of an article in The Economist titled, “Malaysia’s PM is about to steal an election” who had the audacity to suggest in the said article that,

“America’s Justice Department has accused him (Najib) and his stepson, among others, of siphoning money out of 1MDB through an elaborate series of fraudulent transactions. Much of the money went on luxuries, it says, including paintings by Picasso and Monet, a private jet, diamond necklaces, a penthouse in Manhattan and a gambling spree in Las Vegas.”

Oh yes, we should also take comfort in the fact that section 3(2) of the said Act states that the Act shall apply only if “the fake news concerns Malaysia or the person affected by the commission of the offence is a Malaysian citizen.”

In other words, the Act will not apply if the victim of the so called fake news is not a Malaysian citizen so tell your Singaporean business partner to bugger off if he complains that you have been spreading fake news about him to take over the business since only us Malaysians are worthy of being protected under the said Act despite the fact that our Federal Constitution guarantees that all are equal before the law.

This also means that people like Tom Wright are not protected by the Act if the government spreads fake news about him but that’s okay since he’s blatantly guilty of spreading fake news anyway, right?

More significantly, we can continue criticising the famous (or infamous) “MO-1” referred to in the report by the US Department of Justice on 1MDB without the fear of being charged under the said Act since the said “MO-1” can’t possibly be a Malaysian citizen right?

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Rahman Dahlan must have been wrong to have suggested that the said “MO-1” is our Prime Minister. Surely, our responsible government will take the necessary steps to ensure that he is investigated under the said Act for possibly spreading fake news unless his claim that “MO-1” is Najib is indeed true…

And if you feel that there is something wrong with this new law, don’t bother asking your MP to raise it in Parliament as he will probably be told to go to hell for doing so by the know it all Barisan MPs. If you’re lucky, some BN MPs like Deputy Agriculture and Agro Industries Minister and Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Rahman might even offer to go to hell with your said MP like he did when he said “Go to hell with you” to Muhyiddin Yassin when the latter raised the matter in Parliament recently!

Last but not least, let me take the opportunity here to condemn the upcoming book “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World” which is due to be launched later this year even before reading it simply because one of its authors is none other than Tom Wright.

The said Bill has taught me to assume that the said book is undoubtedly going to be full of fake news and will very likely criticise poor Penang boy Jho Low and might even implicate Najib in the process. Surely, I would be doing my country a great disservice by flicking through its filthy pages.

The Government must ban it now even before it reaches the printers.

Sarcasm aside, the proposed Anti-Fake News Act should not be taken lightly as it has the potential to create fear among Malaysians as a time will come when we will be afraid to click on news which might seem controversial let alone share it for fear of being prosecuted under the said Act.

Such fear will inevitably lead to Malaysians being easily dictated to where government propaganda will prevail over common sense thus severely compromising our ability to think freely and independently. It will lead to a society oblivious to the realities of information which might be critical of the government of the day as our children and their children will fear penal consequences for literally deciding for themselves what is fake and what is not.

I am comforted by the fact that opposition leader Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail confirmed in Parliament that the said Act, if passed, will be repealed immediately once Pakatan Harapan comes to power.

Our children have a God given right to think for themselves and be original in the way they apply their minds. No government has the right to deprive them of this most sacred of rights as doing so will result in a generation of fake minds.

That is why we must, at all costs, strive to avoid moving towards a fake generation.

Ramkarpal Singh
Media statement by Ramkarpal Singh in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 1st April 2018