Malaysian prime minister pushes to outlaw ‘fake news’ before election in August

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s scandal-haunted government pushed plans for legislation outlawing “fake news” as parliament convened for the last time before an election due by August. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Malaysian prime minister pushes to outlaw ‘fake news’ before election in August

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s scandal-haunted government pushed plans for legislation outlawing “fake news” on Monday as parliament convened for the last time before an election due by August.
During the coming election campaign, Najib’s foes are expected to fan suspicions of corruption over billions of dollars that have gone missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state fund founded by the prime minister, and whose advisory board he had chaired until mid-2016. Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, told parliament at the opening sitting on Monday that he “greatly supported” the government’s efforts to introduce a law to deal with “the spread of fake news and lies on social media.”
“Currently social media is very influential in forming the values and culture of a society,” the king said in a traditional royal address at the opening of parliament.
The final draft of the bill is expected to be presented for cabinet approval “in a couple of weeks’ time” before being tabled in parliament, state rub Bernama news agency quoted Azalina Othman Said, the minister in charge of law and parliament, as saying. However, Azalina said cabinet will consider if there would be enough time to table the bill in the month-long parliamentary meeting, which would predominantly debate the king’s address.
First exposed in 2015 by foreign media and news blogs, the 1MDB scandal has refused to die down despite Najib’s consistent denials of any wrongdoing and his government’s firm grip on the mainstream media in the country.
At least six countries are investigating transactions related to 1MDB, including the US, where the Department of Justice has mounted its biggest investigation under an anti-kleptocracy initiative, and has launched civil cases to recover assets linked to the fund.
But the government has cowed independent media inside the country. During the early stages of the 1MDB saga, the authorities suspended one newspaper, The Edge, forced the owners to close The Malaysian Insider news website, and blocked other websites for publishing stories critical of Najib’s role.
Governments elsewhere in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, have proposed laws aimed at clamping down on the spread of “fake news,” while media rights advocates have decried the trend in the region.
Opposition lawmakers questioned the need for such a law in Malaysia, arguing that the government already had broad powers. “There are many other laws that are already in existence which can deal with these issues, so the only reason for a new law to come in is to make the severity (of punishments) even higher,” said Tony Pua, a member of parliament from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).


Journalists urge EU to resist lobbying by tech giants

Updated 11 December 2018
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Journalists urge EU to resist lobbying by tech giants

  • European Parliament lawmakers voted in September to compel Google, Facebook and other major tech firms to pay a form of copyright for media stories they use
  • Internet giants, who are widely accused of helping spread fake news, were bent on making it impossible for journalists to do their job verifying facts, Ketz insisted

PARIS: Top journalists called on the EU Tuesday to resist intense lobbying by Internet giants to gut a law which would force them to pay for the news content they pick up.
European Parliament lawmakers voted in September to compel Google, Facebook and other major tech firms to pay a form of copyright for media stories they use.
The historic decision was hailed by media organizations who claimed they were fleeced for years by search engines and aggregators not paying for their work.
The so-called copyright and neighboring rights law aims to ensure that producers of content — whether news, music or movies — are paid fairly in a digital world.
But a group of 100 leading journalists warned Tuesday that intense lobbying by so-called Big Tech on the law, which also has to be agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, is “emptying the text of substance.”
Major publishers, including AFP, have pushed for the reform — known as Article 11 — seeing it as an urgent remedy to safeguard quality journalism and the plummeting earnings of traditional media companies.
But opponents have called it a “link tax” that will stifle discourse on the Internet.
“Think of the investigative work that goes into publishing the headline ‘Suicide attack in Baghdad Shiite quarter: 32 dead, say police, hospitals,’” said AFP Middle East correspondent Sammy Ketz, in an open letter to the EU supported by leading reporters worldwide.
“To pen this simple line, the journalist has questioned the police to determine what kind of explosion took place, called the hospitals to establish a casualty toll, visited the scene of the blast for a description and to interview witnesses.
“Occasionally he may risk his life because it is not unusual for a secondary attack to happen... This was the case in Kabul recently when nine journalists and photographers lost their lives, including AFP’s Shah Marai,” he said.
Yet lobbyists were trying to “exclude references to ‘factuals’ and ‘snippets’ to exclude press agencies and specialist media, and to reduce the protection period for neighboring rights,” Ketz said.
But it was precisely these short stories which are “read in huge quantities... that generate millions of online interactions and thus considerable revenue for the platforms,” he argued.
Internet giants, who are widely accused of helping spread fake news, were bent on making it impossible for journalists to do their job verifying facts, Ketz insisted.
“In the end the field will be left to those who peddle fake news,” the news veteran added.
“Excluding short extracts from neighboring rights will lead publishers and news agencies to employ fewer journalists, to shut their bureaus in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea” and elsewhere, he said.
“Then what will be the sources of information? State media? The disinformation campaigns run by authoritarian regimes?
“Let’s not allow ‘bots’ and ‘troll farms’ to take over from reporters, or leave online fiction to replace verified fact,” Ketz said.
But resistance to the law has been fierce from tech giants, especially to Article 13: the proposal to make online platforms legally liable for copyrighted material put on the web by users.
They say this will restrict creativity and the usage of memes and remixes by everyday net users.
But the journalists have rejected this as a “lie.”
“Free access to the web will endure because the Internet giants, which now use editorial content for free” can well afford to reimburse the media without asking consumers to pay, they said in a previous open letter to lawmakers.