Malaysian lawmakers have taken a tough stance on inaccurate media reports by passing an anti-fake news bill.
The bill covers public forums, blogs and social media accounts in addition to news outlets, with “fake news” being defined as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false”.
Whilst the bill primarily concerns those within Malaysia, it also encompasses international content if the report concerns the country or its citizens.
Under the original legislation, offenders faced up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to A$166,000. However, after a barrage of criticism, the maximum prison sentence was reduced to six years.
With an election due within the next couple of months, critics are suggesting the bill is a way of preventing the opposition from slandering the current government.
The legislation passed with 123 votes for and 64 votes against after its second reading but has faced a large amount of criticism since its initial parliamentary discussion at the end of last month.
Mr Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, “Activists fear the fake news Bill could be used against critics of gerrymandering or other elements of the electoral process.”
The Malaysian process for introducing laws requires the bill to be debated by the Senate – which is expected to happen by the end of this week – before gaining the king’s assent.
Defending the approval of the bill in a blog post last week, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak referred to countries such as Germany and Singapore who are also “considering or have introduced similar legislation”.